The thirteenth Strangers in Paradise trade paperback shows us the parting of the central characters. We know they'll see each other again; an earlier issue shows Francine and Katchoo reunite after a decade apart. Writer/artist Terry Moore gives himself an interesting problem; how does he continue the story after ending the relationship that fueled it? Flower to Flame, a fragmented but often touching story, padded with character lists and fake interviews and other miscellany, provides no certain answers to that question.
Title: Flower to Flame (#55-60 of the third series)
Author: Terry Moore.
Some spoilers follow.
Shocked by the events of the previous issue, Francine returns to her fiance, Brad Silver. Katina and Casey move in together and become friends with benefits. David Qin, the third most significant character in SiP, does not appear at all. This part of the story ends with Francine and Brad’s marriage, shortly after Francine's miscarriage. In between the separation and the union many things happen, but they only loosely cohere. This broken structure reflects the divisions between the major characters, but it results in a less rewarding reading experience.
Casey's development from one-joke bit player to major character has been remarkable, and she is strong enough now to link the separated plots. Moore gives us the essence of Casey in a brief segment where she performs off-key karaoke with a carrot. Katchoo's cell phone rings and Casey, seeing that it is Francine, cancels the recorded message. She has good intentions, but she lacks the full context-- and she's never been the brightest individual. Her action will have unfortunate consequences.
Other characters have been used less effectively. Moore continues to devote pages to the mysterious Lindsey and her developing plot. This takes some hideously violent turns and then ends abruptly, with the main characters unaware of what has happened. After her startling and memorable introduction to the series, the character deserved more. I was left with the impression that Moore got bored with a plot and saw no good way to resolve it. Unfortunately, this won't be the last time this happens.
We see more of the federal agent who has infiltrated Katchoo's life; that development shows promise.
If this part of the story does not always satisfy, Moore handles certain emotional moments very effectively. Francine’s reaction to the miscarriage is entirely believable, and Moore shows us an imagined, silent account of the lifetime she knows won’t be lived.
Katchoo's key involves her abusive stepfather's death. We read her sad, angry poem from High School! as she quietly spray-paints the words child molester on his gravestone.
The Disneyesque dream sequence in #57 may be memorable for its absurd humor (and numerous cameos, including Spider-man), but it captures, in an appropriately surreal way, Katina’s emotional state. Dream-Francine and seven motley dwarfs act out a slapstick parody of a fairy tale which dramatizes Katchoo's desires and fears. In a more serious portion of the dream, she watches her long-time best friend grow old without her.
Flower to Flame pales beside Moore's best work, but it features many good moments. He has taken a risk by destroying the dynamic that made Strangers in Paradise work for so long, but he has also created new opportunities for his characters and their saga.