Publisher: Panel Syndicate
Story By: Brian K. Vaughan
Art By: Marcos Martin
Colors By: Muntsa Vicente
When you ask what are some of the most notable names in comics today there is a very strong chance that both Brian K. Vaughn (Y: The Last Man, Saga, Runaways) and Marcos Martin (Batgirl: Year One, Doctor Strange: The Oath, Breach) will both come up. It is that fact that makes what they are doing with The Private Eye so intriguing. Not only is it an independent book released solely online, but also it has been released through a DRM-Free pay what you want format. All that is well and good but at the end of the day what really matters is the quality of the book, and of course Vaughn and Martin do not disappoint.
Ironically The Private Eye takes place in a near future where the internet has been outlawed after it imploded in The Flood. This caused everyone’s information from their browser history to their Facebook password to be shared with the entire world. Now privacy has become the world’s most precious resource. Pictures are forbidden, library records are guarded like the gold at Fort Knox, and people wear colorful masks that resemble everything from fish heads to the snarling grimace of a fierce tiger to conceal their identity. Of course when privacy is at such an extreme discovering secrets becomes a highly lucrative industry.
Finding information is exactly the job of our main protagonist Patrick Immelman. Although not old enough the drink he runs a P.I. firm that does everything from track down old high school crushes to examine secrets of the industrial complex. He reluctantly takes a job from the sister of one of his past clients, but when she turns up dead he realizes his early apprehension was right as he now fides himself in the middle of a deadly conspiracy.
What is intriguing about this narrative is how this typical dark and dreary noir plot is juxtaposed with art full of vibrant and bright colors. Strangely never is it off-putting as it works to breathe new life to a storyline that is otherwise straightforward. Violence that tends to be muted by the shadow is illuminated in shocking glory by Muntsa Vicente’s crisp yellows and daring reds. He brilliantly accents Marcos Martin’s creative characters and world designs.
Martin takes full advantage of the digital format. Every page has an elongated length that is typically reserved just for action splash pages. It’s like watching a movie where nearly every scene is shot with a wide angle lens. Martin finds creative ways to use this space starting with an early chase sequence that appears to unfold in real time right before your eyes.
You would also think in a world where so many characters dawn full faced masks it would be nearly impossible to display expression. With the combination of Vicenete’s colors and Martin’s distinct lines this never becomes issues. Through the shift a postures and adjustment of colors the same mask can either embody a character of intrigue or the cold dead eyes of a grave threat.
Brian K. Vaughan paints an intriguing picture himself by integrating a critique of today’s internet culture. Patrick Immelman’s de facto grandfather becomes the focal point of this critique and one of the most memorable characters. He plays the part of the aged Millennial still unable to let go of the technology that drove his life previously. Seeing an eldery man with awkward tattoos, unnecessary piercings, and an ADHD attention span makes it hard not to feel embarrassed by what we may become.
Vaughn does lean on this character hard as an excuse to deposits a great deal of exposition. His Alzheimer leads him to forget why there is no WiFi, why his cell phone won’t work, or why he cannot play video games with his friends online. While these moments are effective satirically, they do become a crutch used to explain the world we now find ourselves in.
Typically stories set in the future tend to expand on ideas and concepts we see today. This was a welcomed change of pace that asked the question of what would happened if the future rejected today’s way of life, and the answer that was given was full of inventive ideas. This went a long way to add to a narrative that is otherwise typical of the Noir genre. What makes it different is how those normal crime tropes aid in building this universe. How getting information from the library is much more than reading through archived newspapers or doing a Google search. It is a life risking job requiring kidnapping and espionage of the highest order.
Vaughn has laid the groundwork to develop some great characters. Even after the first issue Immelman is still somewhat of a mystery. We have gotten small tidbits of his back story including some surprising revelations on his sexual orientation, but there is still a lot there to be mined. He has a strong thing going here and clearly this is only the beginning. With the cliffhanger the final pages of the volume leave on you would be hard pressed not to go online and pay whatever you want for the very next issue. Just make sure you are wearing your Tiger mask while doing it.