The tone of this episode is darker and more serious than earlier ones. After a city-shattering battle-to-end-all-battles in the previous issue, Milo and the Captain are getting grilled in an interview room at the police station. In every other situation up to this point, Milo has been something of a cynical, pathetic loser, but now his wise-ass attitude is paying off against the cops. He holds his own with some very skeptical detectives, trying to convince them that he’s not a terrorist and that Captain Valor is a real, live super-hero from an alternate universe. The cops think that it’s more likely that Milo is just some terrorist nut job, destined for an extended stretch at Guantanamo.
Throughout Milo’s exchanges with the detectives, Captain Valor sits silent and motionless, practically catatonic with shock over the damage and devastation caused by his epic battle in the previous issue. Stephie is still not talking to Milo, but she stands there loyally with Milo’s parents in the police interview room, comforting the Captain as he suffers a minor meltdown of grief and despair.
Posing as a federal agent, Caliginous smuggles Milo out of the police station and transports him back to her satellite lair, where they . . . get to know each other (a couple of times). The part of Caliginous that was once Stephie is strangely attracted to Milo, or at least is using Milo to exact revenge upon the Captain. Meanwhile, Valor busts himself and Stephie out of the cop shop, and they hole up in a friend’s apartment to cool off and talk things out.
The quality of the writing and the layers revealed in each of the characters continues to impress me. The romantic and sympathetic criss-cross pairing up of characters — Milo with arch-villian Caliginous, and Stephie with the super-heroic Valor — is a great method through which we can peer a little deeper into the relationship of Milo and Stephie, as reflected through their alter-egos. We can see the action and almost sophomoric humour between Milo and Caliginous, and the earnest, soul-searching revelations in the scene between Valor and Stephie. I can foresee this whole relationship rectangle going full circle (if that’s even geometrically possible) in a future episode, where the super-heroes and super-villians and the normal, mediocre people will all pair off with their respective types and finally restore some kind of balance back to the Universe — at least to the Hero Squared Universe anyway.
As for the art, the “identical sequential panels” technique Abraham uses was cute and novel in issues 3 and 4 and did effectively support the humour in those stories, but by now it feels like the device is wearing a little thin. The use of identical elements from frame to frame can be very effective in showing the passage of time or, if nothing changes, a state of boredom. However, when I see it used to excess (like on page 19), I wonder if it isn’t serving the artist’s deadline more than serving the needs of the story and the reader.
Further, the full-page flight scene on page 11 would have been more effective if there had been more detail and care in the execution of the background, which resembled a rough felt pen sketch. It would have been fantastic to see a detailed cityscape on par with the attention that Abraham has taken with rendering things like facial expressions and clothing wrinkles. Instead, a page that might have been fantastically detailed looked rushed. Maybe inanimate objects aren’t as inspiring or interesting as the human figure, but a reader would likely expect it to be portrayed with the same quality and attention to detail.
Don’t get me wrong: Abraham’s artistic style is engaging, his layouts are great but, at least in this issue, I found the inking to be a little rough and overly heavy, with many lines coming to a blobby, bleedy felt-pen halt, often overlapping each other at the corners. And what’s the deal with Stephie’s eyeglasses? They look sloppily drawn and just awful. Were they just slapped on afterwards so that she wouldn’t resemble Caliginous too much?
As a reader, it also bugs me when I can see little jaggies in line art, as if it has been faxed or scanned in, which I guess must be the case. I know what century this is, but I really don’t want to see too much evidence of digital manipulation if it can be helped. Seeing jaggies and other digital artifacts always kind of kills the buzz for me, art-wise.
Ron Riley’s color work really adds a lot of depth, dimension and texture to the artwork. I hadn’t mentioned it before, but his work really has given this issue (and the whole series) the polish and refined finish needed to keep the artwork up to the level of the writing.
Oh, and Captain Valor didn’t really die.