How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beautious mankind is!
O brave new world,
That has such people in’t.
The Tempest V.i.
The title of the eleventh Strangers in Paradise trade paperback does not refer to Aldous Huxley; author and artist Terry Moore returns to the Shakespearian source of the phrase. Miranda's wonderment at seeing humanity in our diversity suits this story, but readers may wonder about the wisdom of giving this comic the same title as a famous dystopic novel. For the most part, the characters are happy at this point, and able to make choices. Dangers, of course, lurk around every corner, as Moore slowly weaves together many narrative threads. Before these can develop, however, he must resolve a mystery from the previous issue-- one which drove some readers to near-apoplexy.
Title:Brave New World
(Issues #44-45 and 47-48 of the third series)1
Author: Terry Moore.
Some spoilers follow.
After exploring possible future lives and the pasts that might lead/have led to them, Francine Peters, leaves her fiancé to rekindle her relationship with Katchoo. Some may consider the resolution to the previous issue’s mystery a cheat, but it serves the story well by dramatizing Francine’s take on her life’s possibilities. David Qin, who also sought Katchoo’s love, leaves for Japan, claiming he will not return. He may be correct; when he’s there, Tambi puts a gun to his head. Meanwhile, Freddie seeks Francine, a mysterious woman discusses a past sexual assault, another character discovers a human skull, and someone, somewhere, compiles a dossier on Katchoo.
The handling of Casey and, to a lesser degree, Freddie, balances their more recent, sympathetic characterizations with their traditional roles as comic relief. Their development over the years demonstrates Moore’s strength at making even the cartooniest of his characters seem believable. At the same time, Casey's development reveals the dangers of writing serially a story which occasionally shifts its temporal setting. Casey’s actions in #48, where she encourages Francine and Katchoo to finally consummate their relationship, are consistent with the person we’ve come to know. They flatly contradict, however, her attitude in the first issue of the third series, written years earlier but set a decade after the events in Brave New World.
This estranged couple continue to provide some of the funnier moments. Freddie and his latest fling experience an awkward sexual moment. The lights are out, so we only see the dialogue, and have to imagine what might be happening. A phone call interrupts them, and Freddie receives some good news. His response suggests an orgasm, more so than any of the earlier sound effects. At another point, Casey contemplates cooking for Katina and Francine. "How hard can it be?" she asks herself. "You just buy a chicken and read the instructions. Anyone can boil a pancake. Or we can order takeout. Whatever." We’re left to decide the degree to which she is kidding. Dippy though she may be, she's not an idiot. It's clear that she understands the feelings between Katina and Francine better than they do.
Strangers in Paradise has always featured suspense alongside the romance and comedy. Moore raises questions about a number of developments, and solves only some of these mysteries in this volume. Whose skull has the hiker found? What will happen to Casey’s co-worker, Monica, who gives a lift to a man we know to be a rapist? What happens when Francine and Katchoo finally bed down together? What will come of David’s offer to Tambi? Why are the authorities collecting information on Katina? The technique here-- raise a question and delay giving the answer-- may be elementary, but it should keep readers turning pages.
Brave New World certainly has its flaws. The final interaction between Katina and David feels too forced, and too much like what we've seen before. The characters fly into overwrought rages over relationship issues, and one of them, blinded by emotion, does something which will move the plot along. I can accept the series' exaggerations, but the repetition grows tiresome. Moore has written a few too many scenes like this one.
Some people also will be concerned by the stereotypical nature of David’s Japanese girlfriend. She is, however, only one character. When we finally see David’s life story, Moore depicts a diverse Asian cast.
Brave New World isn't the strongest Strangers in Paradise has to offer, but it features impressive artwork, interesting characterization, and an ongoing comic-book reflection of life and relationships.
1. This trade paperback skips issue #46, which features the second instalment of the Molly & Poo saga, introduced back in #14 of the second series. This strange spin-off only tenuously connects to Strangers in Paradise, although the brief appearance of the series regulars helps solve an enigma of the story's continuity.