A disturbed young woman named Molly Lane writes a story, possibly inspired by her Edwardian namesake. Bizarre sex games, twisted psychology, and foul murder all play a part. Along the way, she offers yet another hypothesis concerning the identity of Jack the Ripper.

Then she takes a meat cleaver to her husband.

Readers no doubt opened the fourteenth issue of Strangers in Paradise’s second series expecting to see Katina, Francine, and David involved in adventures, romance, and hijinks, depicted with Terry Moore’s deceptively simple-looking, highly expressive comic style. Instead they found a prose story about unfamiliar characters committing grisly crimes by gaslight. The comic did not lack art entirely; Moore decorated it with original drawings and Victorian and Edwardian clip art. The issue offered no explanation for what it might be doing in Strangers in Paradise, though we later learn that the eponymous Molly (contemporary version) once dated Francine’s brother. Years later, Moore completed the story with a fragmented comic and a second decorated prose piece. The former briefly features SiP regulars and the latter includes a few pages of comics.

Molly & Poo, which collects all three issues, has been numbered the sixteenth Strangers in Paradise trade paperback, but many readers do not see it as a significant part of the story. The SiP official site separates these issues from the chronological list of titles. However, the brief appearance of series regulars does provide long-sought information for the obsessive fan. Moore offers a solution to the Ripper mystery, but also to a less grisly one of his own: how could Francine and Katchoo have known each other since the seventh grade when they first met as high school seniors?

Title: Molly & Poo (#14 of the second series, #46 and 73 of the third series)
Author: Terry Moore.
ISBN: 1-892597-32-2

Some spoilers follow.

Molly Fleming, later Molly Lane, marries a doctor in the 1880s who goes blind. For more than a decade, she waits on him. She grows socially isolated and feels sexually abandoned. She escapes through sexualized games arranged by her mysterious female friend, "Poo." A horrible twist to one of these games leaves Molly in prison for the murder of her husband.

However, in a neo-postmodern metafictional turn, a contemporary woman, also named Molly Lane, is writing her namesake’s story, possibly inspired by an Edwardian case which gained her interest.

The second issue, a more conventional comic, shows us this Molly’s life in fragments, as she grows from troubled teenager to unsuccessful writer to accused murderer. The life of the contemporary Molly has a power in the things at which it hints. The gaps in the story, however, shortchange characterization.

The final issue shows us the twisted, parallel resolutions to both Mollies' trials. Edwardian Molly’s tale features more bizarre, gothic twists; contemporary Molly proves a more compelling character.

As the story nears its conclusion, it twists like a snake swallowing its tail. The Edwardian Molly’s claim in the final issue doesn’t quite jibe with what we’ve seen before; Poo’s earlier theory as to Jack’s identity makes more sense. However, the final twist better reflects the contemporary Molly’s mind. We’re deliberately left uncertain as to how much of the story the present-day Molly invented and, of course, Moore has fabricated all of it. Literary games aside, however, the psychology that underlies Molly & Poo has a mind-warping plausibility. No matter how far-fetched the narrative twists became, I found myself drawn in.

It may only tenuously connect to the Strangers in Paradise story, but Molly and Poo makes an interesting account of warped minds and of their fictional depiction.


Obsessive Continuity Note

Q: Okay, okay! You’ve been rambling about continuity and Moore’s efforts at reconciling errors since you started reviewing Strangers in Paradise. I don’t read the series. How the heck can Moore realistically account for early statements that the girls met in seventh grade when High School! shows they met and befriended each other five years later?

A: Their brief appearance in Molly & Poo shows a young, presumably seventh-grade Francine interacting with her brother and a teenaged Molly Lane. A mysterious blonde girl, apparently Katina, slaps Francine’s butt while passing. The conversation makes it clear that the girls have never spoken directly and they don’t know each other’s names. Katina clearly has some odd, distant infatuation with Francine.

We have to fill in the rest. At some point—say, when she is in grade seven—Katina briefly attends the same school as Francine. The girls have their first, passing encounters, but don’t actually know each other. The Choovanskis then move; it fits with what we know about them.

Years later, they take the house under the powerlines back in the old neighborhood. Francine and Katchoo meet, as depicted in issues #13-15 of the third series. Katchoo leaves town in #15, and the pair catch up nearly a decade later, shortly before issue #1 of the first series. At some point, they recognize their brief encounter back in grade seven, and thereafter occasionally joke about having been friends since seventh grade.

Obviously, the references to their "seventh grade" friendship came about because Moore had not plotted the entire story arc when he started. Here, he offers as good an explanation as any for the contradiction. Placing it in a story which questions the conventions of stories-- you know, things like continuity-- is a clever touch.

I only wish the final issues of Strangers in Paradise had been as respectful of continuity. From here on in, Moore will detach his tale from much of what has come before.

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