Child of Rage , the ninth Strangers in Paradise trade paperback, collects the second half of this story arc or chapter that started with My Other Life. It also had me thinking about Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy.
If you’ve read Dick Tracy, following from its height in the 1930s and 40s, when it became a cultural reference-point, to its shark-jumping 60s, when newspapers dropped the strip like fish offal, you know that it went in some new directions at the end of the 1950s, and a large percentage of Gould’s readership couldn’t follow.
Tracy was never realistic; he lived a comic-strip version of a cop’s life. No one was surprised when he used comic-strip technology or chased down cartoon villains. These things defined the strip, and even if you weren’t a reader, you might still recognize Tracy’s two-way wrist radio and his grotesque rogues gallery. Readers accepted these as parts of Tracy’s world. Then, quite suddenly, the hardboiled, fedora-wearing cop had access to an interplanetary space coupe, flying cars, and death rays. His adopted son married an inhabitant of the moon. Seriously, for more than a decade, Tracy had an extraterrestrial daughter-in-law and a hybrid grandchild, until Gould relinquished the strip and later writers undid years of continuity. The new elements shattered the reality of the strip. They were about as welcome as Andorians would be in a James Bond movie—not because either James Bond or Dick Tracy is realistic, but because neither version of reality includes antennaed space aliens.
Strangers in Paradise does not falter quite so notoriously with its Big Six plot, but for two years it veered into territory that did not serve its characters well.
Some spoilers follow.
Katchoo is blackmailed into returning to the criminal world, this time by running the computer-based portion of the syndicate’s operation. Her actions bring her up against the deranged Veronica. Francince and David, meanwhile find themselves in difficult circumstances.
Against this backdrop, Francine decides to accept Brad’s proposal of marriage. She clearly has second thoughts, and she encounters a mysterious woman, Lillian, who once faced a situation that paralleled her own. David, having finally recovered from the injuries he sustained in a plane crash, doesn’t want to become involved with anyone, but he clearly retains his attraction for Katchoo. The newly-divorced Casey Femur, meanwhile, has an interest in David.
Francine’s interactions with and eventual discoveries about Lillian may be somewhat clichéd, but Moore demonstrates here the kind of storytelling that he does well. SiP began as a heightened, comic-book account of relationships, of human comedy and drama, and he continues to tell that story better than his peers.
The layout and art remain strong. I was especially impressed with his handling of scenes set in winter. Unfortunately, we see fewer of the whimsical and bizarre concepts that usually characterize his work.
Moore also scores some hits with the thriller plot. For example, the noir scenes of violence in #36 pack a punch. This story, however, is fundamentally flawed. The flaws have their roots in I Dream of You and (especially) Immortal Enemies, which explore David and Katchoo’s criminal pasts.
David and Katchoo’s unsavory histories were established early on, but they should have been more plausible unsavory histories. Katchoo could have been the high-price call girl, involved in blackmail. Had Moore gone no further, that past could have caused any number of complications, violent and otherwise. However, that this young woman from a broken home could run a mult-billion-dollar enterprise, pretending to be a reclusive male executive, while falling into full-blown alcoholism, violates even SiP’s elastic sense of reality. Furthermore, it takes the series into directions which don’t serve it well, and which Moore does not handle nearly as inventively as he does the series’ other storylines. It takes talent to make the ordinary (well, SiP gives us the comix version of ordinary) extraordinary. In taking us into his over-the-top action movie conspiracy thriller, Moore does not raise the stakes. He settles for less.
Possibly the lowest point occurs when conspiracy theorist Marshall Weistein learns that everything about which he has speculated regarding the Big Six is true. Heck, they even arranged the 1929 Stock Market Crash. "That’s awful," he says, just before he dies.
I found myself nodding in agreement.
Moore seems uncomfortable with the overblown developments. He skips ahead a year so we don’t actually see Katchoo’s gradual immersion into the criminal element or David’s recovery from his injuries. The adventures chronicled here feel like the imaginative play of little kids. When the threat has passed, the principals return home. Their lives are affected significantly by the drama of their relationships, but the wilder adventures of the past year appear to have little long term impact.
In issue #43, Moore acknowledged the complaints these issues raised. His response initially caused even greater reader confusion. That controversy notwithstanding, the next issues, collected in Tropic of Desire, restore the series' reputation for inventive playfulness, as Moore presents adventures suited to SiP's memorable characters.
Title: Child of Rage (Issues #31-38 of the third series)
The issue also includes several works of SiP art, by Moore and others.
These include a tribute to Peanuts creator Charles Schultz
and an SiP meeting with characters from Jeff Smith’s Bone.
Author: Terry Moore.