Oh Lord... Be with us tonight! Guide our feet, especially on the staircase, and don't let our pasties fall off because it's a $300.00 fine! Amen.
-Casey's pre-show prayer.
The fifteenth Strangers in Paradise trade paperback begins a year after Francine’s wedding and the separation of the major characters, events depicted in Flower to Flame. Moore left the story’s present tense for a time to fill in missing details of David's Story. With Tomorrow Now, he returns to the central narrative-- without the character dynamic that made SiP succeed.
Significantly, the back cover blurb refers to SIP as the story of three women living extraordinary lives. The previous trade paperback focused on David Qin, and he reappears at the end of this one. For the present, however, Casey has replaced him in the novel’s central trio.
Tomorrow Now (#77-82 of the third series)
Author: Terry Moore.
Back in familiar Houston, Katchoo presents a one-woman art show. Past events overshadow her success, however, when she learns that someone close to her is an agent investigating the death of Lindsey/Olivia. Meanwhile, Francine gets a significant tattoo, Casey becomes a Las Vegas showgirl, Marie Peters confronts her past as the Bettie Pagesque "Mary Midnight," and a new, sinister character makes his first appearance. The story also flashes back to Katina at 17, shortly after she ran away to L.A. We read an illustrated story she wrote, watch her steal a steak from Kevin Spacey, and meet her ill-fated partner Emma.
Characterization remains central to Strangers in Paradise. Marie gets stretched—though not to breaking—with revelations of her past as Mary Midnight, pin-up girl. Freddie Femur backslides a bit, becoming more of the joke character he’d been in earlier issues. Casey and Katchoo, as usual, have been handled well.
One entertaining, character-driven sequence occurs when Detective Walsh and FBI Agent Bryan confront Katchoo. Facing interrogation and the prospect of life in prison, Katchoo takes a personal call on her cell phone. After some witty exchanges and well-drawn expressions, the conversation ends. Katchoo appears irked and distracted by the discussion, and the investigators stare in disbelief. Then Detective Walsh—- who has just stressed the gravity of Katchoo’s situation-- picks up on the topic of the call. As Agent Bryan stares like an irritated spouse, Walsh fawningly asks, "You know Mary Midnight?"
Bryan: Who’s Mary Midnight?
Walsh: It’s a guy thing.
Bryan: Oh.... Smut.
Katchoo: Can I go to prison now?
The plot developments themselves may not be terribly original, but Moore experiments with narrative and demonstrates that he can handle various artistic styles. Freddie Femur stars in a cartoony segment which folds back into the main storyline, and in a "one-minute play" script depicting events that occured early in the series. Moore also gives us satiric jabs at the manipulation of the War on Terror, a sequence in charcoal-sketch style, a parade of showgirls, and examples of Katchoo’s art.
The story holds together, and the Vegas plotline shows promise. While the resolution of Katchoo’s legal complications makes sense, it represents the kind of quick, forced conclusion to which Moore will return again. With Strangers... nearing its final issue, Moore’s mind necessarily must be set on loose ends. Even so, the sinister figure lurking in the final pages of Tomorrow Now indicates new dangers still await his characters.1
1. Warning: Spectacularly nerdy footnote. Other issues must remain unresolved. Time moves more slowly in Strangers in Paradise than in real life, as it does in most comics. The series has been running since 1993; these issues appeared in 2005. In SiP’s world, however, about four years have passed. In order to keep the references relevant to readers, the allusions to real events in each issue reflect the world at the time of publication. I have no problem with these conventions. It irked me slightly, however, when Katchoo’s biography gives her year of birth as 1976. Identifying the year was entirely unnecessary, and it problematizes several issues which indicate that the characters’ senior high school adventures occur at some indefinite point in the 1980s. Unrealistic conventions are a tricky thing; if pushed too far (save in farce and satire) they undercut the story’s impact. A good comic book example would be the infamous story in Superman #330 which tries to address why people don’t recognize Clark Kent without his glasses. The solution doesn’t make the convention more believable; it just stresses its absurdity. Similarly, stating that Katchoo was born in 1976 calls undue attention, for no good reason, to a timeline at variance with the story's sense of reality.