"Oh, God. No."
"You’d be surprised how many people say that in the end. I always tell them the same thing… God’s not with us."
--A Crime Caesar and a Crime Brutus
The Strangers in Paradise chapter or story arc that began with Love Me Tender finishes with Immortal Enemies. The fifth trade paperback, it takes Moore’s comic series/graphic novel into conspiracy theory territory, not for the last time.
Title: Immortal Enemies (Issues #6-12 of the third series)
Author: Terry Moore
The original issues include the last three that Moore released through Homage, the company he formed with Jim Lee, Kurt Busiek, and James Robinson, before returning SiP to his own imprint, Abstract.
At this point in the saga, Francince and Katchoo appear to be settling into a relationship. Katchoo, however, leaves to see where she stands with David Qin. David and Katchoo quickly get caught again by their past involvement with the evil Darcy Parker. She’s been closer than they’ve realized; Rachel, Chuck’s fiancée and Francine’s new colleage, works for Parker. As the plot unfolds, we learn that Ms. Parker is even more powerful and connected than we previously suspected. Her membership in the Big Six, manipulators of political and economic systems, soon jeopardizes the lives of all principal characters. It also threatens the credibility of the series.
Strangers in Paradise has never been strictly realistic, and has always included exaggerated comic-book touches. Emotions are heightened, cartoony slapstick occurs, and ordinary people find wild adventures. These things have never threatened to overwhelm the series’ more realistic elements. The far-reaching conspiracy revealed by Immortal Enemies, however, meshes uncomfortably with the rest of the story. It’s as though an extraterrestrial appeared in a James Bond movie or, say, an afternoon soap opera suddenly introduced a plot involving a mad scientist’s freeze-machine. While neither of these genres are realistic to begin with, each has created a set of expectations, and only very careful handling can make a raising of the stakes or a challenging of the genre's conventions work.
Moore handles matters better here than he will in the future, but the fact remains that SiP’s world would be far different if the plot depicted here occured. The effects on characters would be farther-reaching. The conspirators themselves would have to handle their business differently than they do here. While it is absurd that Darcy Parker would mark all of her undercover girls with the same tattoo, thus making them easily identifiable, it really isn’t an issue here; I can accept this as a comic-book flourish. However, that anyone playing for the kind of stakes depicted would make the obvious error she does with Veronica/Rachel’s reassignment defies belief, even in SiP’s pulp-fiction world. You cannot take someone from a regular life in a major city where she has friends, a job, and a fiancée, and then plop her (the day after she assaults someone, no less), under a new name, back into the life of a presidential candidate who is under intense media scrutiny, without being discovered. Immortal Enemies tries to address why the Six would go along with this plan, and only calls attention to its idiocy. Of course, the plan unravels, but the planners would know it was going to unravel and find some other approach. The basic conspiracy depicted isn’t that far-fetched, but it would require a good deal better organization than we see here to have gone undetected for so long. In the end, Parker and her associates are the wealthy thugs depicted in past issues. They can run dangerous criminal operations, but they’re out of their league with this plot. These are the people who engineered major political and economic events in recent history? They would have been discovered and locked up years ago.
There was no need to bring the story’s thriller elements into tinfoil hat territory. If readers are concerned about the fate of some relationships or Francine’s quest to find Polaroids taken by an ex, we will certainly be drawn in by any threat to the characters’ lives. They can have deadly enemies—- that has already been established—- but they don’t need to have politician-juggling Illuminatiesque enemies.
To his credit, Moore handles this business fairly well here, and resolves a number of loose ends. He won’t be nearly so successful when he reintroduces the Big Six many issues later.
The more typical elements he handles very well. Issue #8 moves from a violent development in the thriller plot to a less threatening confrontation between Francine and her ex-boyfriends. The latter actually proves at least as interesting, and certainly more entertaining. It would be easy for Freddie Femur’s self-obsessed, sexist character to become tiresome, but Moore limits his involvement, and handles him with a deft comic touch. Francine’s encounter with Freddie and Chuck comes to a tentative conclusion, and the story then turns back to the earlier episode, where a key character appears likely to die. Moore balances these elements and keeps us informed of certain plot-related political developments without really interrupting the flow of the comic.
Moore continues to toss in bits of craziness. Two New Jersey plumbers blunder into a lesbian bar while trying to pick up chicks. They’re named "Ralph" and "Norton" and resemble the characters from The Honeymooners. Once again, some engaging poor players wander into the story, and then back into some life which we half-believe continues outside of SiP’s panels.
The experiments with the comic form include pages of text, illustrated musical accompaniment, and visual allusions to television, cinema, and comix. Careful readers will enjoy the ongoing attention to detail. A paramedic (who resembles Tintin) hauls off a patron of Casey’s gym in the background of one scene.
Despite the life-threatening adventures, all ends well for the principals. Problematic conspiracies aside, these issues form part of a very successful run for this title. It will continue with the next issue, which takes Strangers in Paradise back to its roots and the origins of Katchoo and Francine’s friendship.