The last time Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin collaborated, the result was Doctor Strange: The Oath, perhaps the best Marvel Comics mini-series of the last decade. When these two powerhouses get together to produce a new series, it virtually demands to be read. As such, it comes as no surprise that The Private Eye is a brilliant, captivating comic. What is perhaps more surprising is the fact that it wasn’t formally announced until mere days before the first installment was released. It is available through Panel Syndicate, a site established by the creators, as a “pay as you wish” digital download, an intriguing endeavor that sends readers’ money directly to the creators to fund future installments. It’s an interesting distribution method for a series that deals with the end of the Internet age.
The story follows Patrick Immelmann, a young man who officially works as a notary, but makes his real income on the side as what passes for a private investigator in a future Los Angeles. This is sci-fi noir (much heavier on the noir), with jilted lovers, femme fatales, a detached anti-hero, and shady characters lurking in the shadows. There is also an overwhelming amount of neon, advertising, and furries. It’s a setting that is tonally familiar to fans of gumshoes and dames and, at the same time, wholly different. Noir science fiction, which tends towards the dark, run-down worlds of something like Blade Runner, typically doesn’t see environments like the one here.
The Private Eye draws you in and creates an air of mystery out of the simple, “mundane” aspects of this world, which looks similar, but is obviously radically different, from our own. The year and circumstances which led to this world are never expressly stated, but clues are strewn throughout the narrative for those paying close enough attention (the “300” banners hanging in the park, for instance). As the story progresses, we can begin to piece together just what happened to our present-day world to bring about this futuristic one, but the book plays with this information very creatively and compellingly. It’s a mystery story that keeps the reader guessing not only about the plot (which is only vaguely addressed in this first issue), but also the setting and the characters, both main and trivial, that inhabit it.
In one of the first twists in 32 pages that are simply full of them, we discover that the main character, the titular “private eye,” is a paparazzi and notice that his pursuer wears a press pass in his fedora. An advertisement for the Los Angeles Times on a passing train features the tagline “You Tax Dollars at Work!” This is a time period in which licensed journalism has become akin to a government-sponsored police force, and outlaw journalists are hired for dirty, suspicious work. Sam Spade has become Perez Hilton.
The book’s title, however, is not simply a reference to the main character, but a suggestion of the very event that gave way to this bizarre environment and the characters that populate it. In this world, privacy has been rendered moot, as the veil of the Internet was lifted, ruining billions of careers, families, and lives. The result is a society that values anonymity to such a degree that people disguise themselves every time they leave the house.
Marcos Martin, as always, proves himself one of the most skilled sequential artists working today. His line work is clean, his characters limber and fluid, and the world a visually provocative and detailed place. In the nuances of his panels, Martin delivers at least as much information about the setting and its inhabitants as Vaughan does in the text. This is a gorgeous comic.
The Private Eye is projected to last 10 issues, though much of this likely depends on how successful this experiment is. Although a payment of 99 cents is suggested, readers can technically download the book at no cost. Of course, if no one pays for the book, then completing the remaining 9 issues will be much more difficult for the creators. This is a series, however, that is so good that readers should have no problem forking over a buck or two to keep reading it. Head over to Panel Syndicate to see how great the book is for yourself (and support this creative endeavor)!