When I started Lost Vegas in preparation for my review of the third issue, I was blown away and could barely believe my eyes. Janet Lee’s painted art is eye-popping and atypical for a hard edged sci-fi noir on a casino prison ship while Jim McCann’s two-fisted story is fearless about being sustainably “weird” and surreal.
The book is both beautiful and hard-hitting with anything-but derivative style and elements and the cliffhanger we’re left with at the end of issue #3 would leave any self-respecting addict of the gridded page begging for more. Lost Vegas #4 finally hit stands a month later than expected and the pressure was on to deliver a fitting end to the series and live up to the potential that was laid out from the beginning.
“Fitting” this final story may be. However, it is also often confusing and occasionally scattershot with a plot that moves around just as much as the first three issues but without quite the cohesion that made them great.
Don’t get me wrong, this final issue isn’t a let-down, but feels like a bit of a cleanup. We begin with Roland, the card-playing indentured servant who serves as our main character, diving into a final scheme with his renegade compatriots aboard the strange bio-mechanical casino ship. Of course his co-conspirators still include an amorphous psychic alien, a giant, sentient reindeer, the rightful princess of the galaxy, a hippie convict tactician, Roland’s ex-girlfriend and a “Godspark”, one of a race of beings who can create entire galaxies by creating their own “big bang” (amongst other uses). So, as you can see, the crew remains motley.
As for the scheme, McCann outlines a “long game” that Sawyer from Lost would have been proud of. This isn’t all about Roland and his friends finally gaining freedom from the casino that has them so brutally under its thumb, but also for taking down the main villain of the series, Ensign Scotsorn (who is, let me tell you, a real jerk, in the true scientific sense). McCann also peppers his plot with gambling references to drive the literary point home. This mission is a gambit and the conspirators have everything riding on its success, but McCann’s dialogue becomes rife with references to “playing the odds”, “upside down and back like dice”, “one hand, all or nothin’” and even “know when to run” serving as this issue’s subtitle (a reference to Kenny Rogers’ famous theme song from The Gambler). It gets to the point where the reader, so used to the intricacies and dialogue flare that McCann is so skilled at, rolls his eyes and mumbles “yeah, we do get it.”
McCann, however, hasn’t lost his knack for metaphor, even if he does spend a lot too much of it on gambling references. The surprising gladiator duel in the arena is something to behold, especially when its surprise twist reveals the very definition of atonement. Without offering spoilers (and thus face the fanboy lynch mob), the gladiator duel is far from the only satisfying surprise in this exciting story and both McCann and Lee are on their game when it comes to showing the details behind each surprise, for a more deeply engrossing story. Fascinatingly, as many i’s to dot and t’s to cross as Lost Vegas demands, there is no pat, happy ending for all involved. That’s not to say that the series ends on a down note, but it is to say that there are a few things that the characters, if not the writer, would have preferred to go differently.
Then again, if Lee and McCann work together on a sequel, there is plenty of territory left to explore.
The problem here is that there are also a few cheap surprises that break up the flow of an otherwise excellent saga. From the gratuitous sucker punch to the shock of a major character’s death that soon is revealed to be a ruse, there are a few moments in the fourth issue that bring it down into something that Lost Vegas has never quite been: cliché.
Generally, however, Lost Vegas is complex, not convoluted, so the series lends itself to repeat readings like epic films lend themselves to repeat viewings. Each run through reveals something new that was missed before. The final issue is no exception to this rule and many new things became evident in the second and third reading, however, I also found that these repeat looks were required, as some of the beautiful art that Lee tells McCann’s story through didn’t quite connect all of the dots as coherently as it could have. Occasional sequences require thumbing back a page or two to confirm whether or not they take place in the same scene at the same time. Others have actions that don’t quite make sense until the dialogue explains what the hell just happened.
To be fair, I am far from trashing this final issue. Repeat readings are hard to resist when a comic is this good and McCann is meticulous in his efforts to address each loose end (even, and especially, if the way these are tied up is far from what the reader expects or hopes for). The final analysis of Lost Vegas is that the gamble paid off and Image readers are walking away with a big win (if a few chips short of the jackpot). The final analysis of Lost Vegas #4 itself will depend largely on what, if anything, comes later. If McCann dreams up a sequel and picks this promising story up where it left off, #4 will be remembered as one hell of a launchpad for what could be a real epic. If this is the true final hand, however, it’s hard not to ask for just a little more.