Take the internet, for example. The Internet and the World Wide Web are a few of the most fantastic inventions of all time. And combine these things with smartphones and laptops, and what you have is the ability for the average, everyday person to walk around with a gateway to the largest collection of human knowledge to ever exist right in their pockets. The Internet is a big, beautiful thing, and our uniquely human talents are doing their best to ruin it.
Everything there is to know about things like the American Civil War, the life of Genghis Khan, black holes, how the human body works, why dogs bark and cats meow, all the way down to who invented the kazoo (Alabama Vest and Thaddeus Von Clegg) can be found instantly and easily. And yet what do we do with the Internet? We use it to get into caps lock screaming matches, turn annoying others into a science, and say the most horrible things imaginable under the guise of anonymity.
But what if a massive hole was torn in that cloak of anonymity and every dirty secret was suddenly out in the open for everyone to see, with lose threads blowing in the wind and tracing everything back to its person of origin? That is the main question Brian K. Vaughn and Marcos Martin decided to explore in The Private Eye, and the world that exists within its pages is an examination of what would happen if everyone’s private World Wide Web escapades were brought into the light.
The Private Eye is a pulpy, noir mystery set in a possible world of tomorrow where the cloud has burst and everyone’s secrets have been revealed. As such, the general populous goes about their daily activities wearing masks and disguises. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me, and no one is looking to get fooled twice as everyone keeps their identities under metaphorical lock and key. The Internet and the World Wide Web are no longer in existence (that is what would be considered a ‘key point’ in this story…) and smartphones, iPads, and other personal devices have become relics of a bygone era.
The story follows a private investigator who unwillingly and unknowingly gets thrust into a case with ramifications far larger than any he ever could have imagined. The story is just cliche and familiar enough to build a framework of noir goodness before originality takes over. Upon first glance, the story may not appear to be built on a foundation of pulp noir thanks to the extremely colorful artwork. There are fuliginous rooms filled with dames, gumshoes, and whiskey in this tale. And that’s okay because what the artwork lacks in noir, the story more than makes up for.
Additionally, the artwork is lacking in that grittiness with reason. In this world, having a secret identity has become so much the norm that people don’t just throw bandanas over their faces and put their hoods up, they have some fun with it. My favorite panels in the book are the ones where the main characters are in public among citizens donning their masks and costumes. Scanning the streets and looking at the detail put into each individual person makes the story, and the world, feel real. This world building aspect is the strongest aspect of The Private Eye, it is like a combination of The Fifth Element and Blade Runner with a twist of technological pessimism. And to that point, the Ray Bradbury quote from earlier is even more relevant.
Intended or not, there are allusions to Ray Bradbury everywhere. From the general distrust of technology the main character has to the giant television walls a la Fahrenheit 451 (among others), Bradbury’s presence can be felt throughout.
The story itself, like any good noir story, is simple without being shallow and the feeling that all will not end well for our main characters is persistent throughout. Despite the main character being a bit weak the story never suffers because of it. This is thanks in large part due to a very strong supporting cast, chief among them is the hipster Millennial grandpa, who not only remembers things the way they were before the cloud burst, but was also a part of the most technologically savvy and socially connected generation to ever exist. His “I used to walk five miles in the snow to school every day” stories aren’t so much about trekking large, snow-covered distances, but are instead nostalgic ramblings about a time when everything was connected and the Internet was not some nefarious specter floating about.
Part of what makes this story so interesting is the timeliness of it. With leaked pictures and identity theft becoming a part of everyday life, one can only imagine the stuff tucked away in some corner of the World Wide Web that has yet to be hacked into and released for all to see and the damage it could cause (think of something similar to the now infamous Ashley Madison leak).
Also, it should be mentioned this story was, rather ironically, originally self published by the creators online, and all the issues are now gathered into a very attractive hardcover “Cloudburst Edition.” The hardcover comes with things you’d expect a special edition graphic novel to come with, like preliminary character sketches, but also includes a very interesting inside look at some emails sent back and forth between Brian K. Vaughn and Marcos Martin about the inception and creation of the story. These “BKVLeaks” offer some fascinating insight into the process of creating the story and the PanelSyndicate website it was originally published on. I always appreciate a ‘special’ edition that actually gives something extra worthy of its name.
The Private Eye is a story that is firing on all cylinders. It has beautiful, interesting artwork, an incredibly timely story packed with murder, action, and mystery, and manages to provide some intriguing social commentary without stepping on the plot’s toes and becoming preachy. Plus the package it is all wrapped up in isn’t too shabby either. If you are a fan of dystopian fiction, noir, science fiction, or any type of thoroughly realized and beautifully presented story (or if you’re just an Earth man with a talent for ruining big, beautiful things), you don’t want to miss The Private Eye.
4 1/2 out of 5 stars
Get it here.