I was not familiar with The Private Eye nor did I remember seeing single issues in my local comic book shop prior to the release of the “Cloudburst” edition from Image Comics last week. Then, while reading the supplements in the back of this deluxe hardcover release, I discovered that this ten-part science-fiction/mystery series had been published online at PanelSyndicate.com, where the creators offered their comics directly to their readers in DRM-free formats. In turn, readers could pay what they could afford, or even nothing. The Private Eye received critical acclaim and was recognized with an Eisner Award this past summer in the category of Best Digital/Web Comic – honors that are well-earned and deserved.
Brian K. Vaughan, who has penned several excellent stories, including Saga, Y: The Last Man, and Ex Machina, has once again written a story that provides social commentary on our society, this time with the concept of identity. After the “cloudburst” of all personal information, the internet is no longer around and a backlash of attitude has formed in which people no longer publicize every one of life’s details for public consumption. Personal devices, such as smart phones and mobile devices, are even a distant memory in this future world. Instead, individuals’ public identities are hidden by masks that shield and protect the person, with connotations of privilege (the advanced technology of the mask) to bizarre insect heads and zippered masks that reference sadism and masochism. Masking is not a new concept; for instance, it was an issue of concern and study during the early 20th century in an effort to understand a person’s struggle for identity when experiencing personal crisis. It’s a fascinating and compelling concept explored in this story, where the public masks camouflage personal identity from society at large.
There were two aspects of the visuals that were surprising, given the futuristic noir genre. First, the rather strung-out, thin-lined figures and world that almost seem like they could fly off the page with a strong gust of wind succeed and complement the idea of hiding one’s real face and name behind masks. This is accomplished by veteran artist Marcos Martin who has worked on IPs such as The Amazing Spider-Man, Daredevil, and Doctor Strange: The Oath. The use of single-pane pages are particularly effective at stressing pivotal moments of the story and contrast well with the pages that incorporate several panels per page. And, as a SoCal resident, I experienced the added connection to seeing some familiar Los Angeles landmarks as still existing in PI’s world.
The other unexpected visual success arises from the bright and vibrant color palette. One would think that vivid, energetic colors would be a disparaging partnership given the story’s noir tone, yet, surprisingly, illustrator Muntsa Vicente’s (Elle, Harper Collins) choice of colors complement and accentuate this futuristic crime drama without sacrificing the thrilling and shady aspects that readers have come to expect from noir.
Given the combined experience backing this project, it should not come as a surprise that this trio has delivered an absorbing tale partnered with stunning visuals. The accolades and critical success are well placed with this offering from Vaughan, Martin, and Vicente.