Hey! Why am I the only one here with no clothes on?
Sanctuary, the seventh Strangers in Paradise trade paperback, represents a series high point. The story moves smoothly between the central characters’ future, first glimpsed in Love Me Tender, and their present. In the future, Francine and Katchoo reunite after ten years of separation. In its present, we see the hysterical adventures of the characters as Katina enters paintings of Francine into an art exhibit, Casey and Freddie’s relationship implodes, and David inherits his sister’s fortune.
Sanctuary (Issues #17-24 of the third series)
Author: Terry Moore.
The future sequences tend toward the bittersweet. We see very little plot here, only certain realizations by Francine’s mother, and the reunion of two old friends. Other moments, set in the past, highlight both the tenderness and the flaws in SiP’s central relationship. In a few places the dialogue becomes clichéd, and this will not sit well with some readers. While Moore understands the meaning of a phrase like, "Francie, if only you could see through my eyes" and has Katchoo use it when a real person might, and he humorously undercuts the phrase, "I think I can hear my heart," they can be a bit hard to take. Other aspects of this comic-book soap opera work very well. I think many readers will recognize Francine in the moment when she cannot accept that she’s the beauty Katina has painted
Most of the story draws humor from the characters. I cannot think of another comic centered on a painting and its meaning to various characters, much less one that finds so many laughs in the situation. Indeed, the chronologically fractured, chaotic fourth quarter of Santuary is as funny as anything in comix. Casey discovers the vast nude painting of Francine which her husband has purchased, and reacts with predictable outrage. She heads to Francine's house to confront her, and ends up throwing herself at David. Moments later, she asks a bewildered Katchoo to "turn" her gay. Later (and after additional comic mishaps, reminiscent of a Restoration farce), the group returns to the Femurs' house, where Freddie and Katchoo get into a fist fight and Freddie’s Porsche experiences a reversal of fortune. This leads to an incident with a hose that puts the entire cast in police custody. Everyone shouts, Freddie warms up to David when he hears he has inherited money, Francine demands a missing bikini and "a bad trial thingy," and an incompetent cop shoots his superior in the toe.
These issues give more attention to Casey than any before. Previously, she had been only a running joke:
--And quit throwing yourself at people. You’re just spreading a bad marriage around like a virus! If you don’t love him, leave him! If you do love him, screw him into submission! That’s how that stupid pact works, so get with the program!
--What the hell are you crying about?
--You don’t like me anymore!
--Aw, fer pete’s sake... Of course I like you, you moron!
--You’re just saying that to be nice! Wagh!
--No! I’m not! Stop crying!
--God, Katchoo! You’re like... sniff... So physical.
--I kind of liked it.
Sanctuary marks Casey’s transition to developing character. She remains entertainingly dippy, but gradually we begin to see a believable person, someone who chose the life she has and hates it. We see Casey’s life for its own sake, but for the way it reflects Francine’s story arc.
Freddie remains one-to-two-dimensional, but he’s funny, and the series will later examine his personality.
Throughout, Moore continues to do some great things with layout and lines. Of particular note are the number of wordless panels which reveal character and move plot as effectively as any dialogue.
As always, Moore includes incidental satiric jabs and bizarre crossover moments. Pretentious art snobs, trend-following suburbanites, dirty laundry-obsessed news programs, and mainstream radio stand among his casual targets. The cameo appearances are diverse. Blondie Bumstead takes art classes with Katchoo. Bill and Hillary Clinton appear in a dream sequence. Basil Fawlty shows up at the art opening. Bailey the cop is a dead ringer for Don Knotts’ Barney Fife, while a garbage can in the park resembles R2-D2.
One of the lengthiest of the Strangers in Paradise collections, Sanctuary focuses on the elements Moore does best: relationships and comedy. The conclusion foreshadows the return of the thriller elements and other directions for the series.