The Short Version: So the Smiler won the election and Spider is feeling a bit gloomy. Still, there are stories to be discovered and Truth to be told – so he, along with his filthy assistants, continues about his merry way. But when he latches onto the story of a brutal beating on Dante Street, he suddenly finds himself smack in the middle of a perfect trap, laid out by maybe even the President himself…
The Review: I’ve been impressed from the start by Warren Ellis’ skill at teasing true philosophical emotional moments out of what he once called (in response to a question I’d asked him on Tumblr) “a fairly obscure, nicely drawn container for a bunch of swearing.” He’s exaggerating a bit, by the way, about that “obscure” bit – for example, Sir Patrick Stewart introduces this particular collection. But anyway, not the point: point is, for all of the unrestrainedly debauched bits of sex and drugs and dystopic sci-fi… there’s a heart to this series. And that heart lies squarely in the fucked-up body of Mr. Spider Jerusalem.
The first story in this collection is a stand-alone, a reporter who came to interview Spider. Spider obliges, talking about when he discovered death and what his childhood was like… you get the sense that the raging lunatic we’ve seen on the surface might actually be a front – and that Spider’s return to the city has cost him a bit of his peace-of-mind. There are a lot of shots (I should, I suppose, say ‘panels’), throughout this whole collection, of Spider facing out to something, thinking, silent. Looking over the water or over the city. For a guy who might be firing a bowel disruptor at someone within a page in either direction, it’s a bit surprising. And yet – he’s still shaken by Vita’s death (still hunting for answers, too) and more importantly still shaken by the fact that the Smiler played him. And I think that’s what causes the colossal blind spot that nearly gets Spider and the filthy assistants killed in this collection.
I was stunned, to be honest. It was an escalation that I was not, at all, ready for. We saw Vita’s death, as well as the threats at the end of the last collection, but I was not quite ready for this. We see a moment of sheer brutality, stretched over nearly a whole page (front and back) of panels. And then, after Spider comes a-looking for answers, a riot is staged – that’s then turned into a police-sanctioned bloodbath. To top it all off, what’s waiting for Spider when he gets home… I can’t blame him for freaking out (to the point that the filthy assistants are genuinely quiet and a bit freaked out too). This is war now and it’s on a level larger than I think anyone (including Spider) was prepared for.
As usual, the collection is drawn beautifully and I really enjoyed Robertson’s experiments this time around. There are some shots that lend themselves to a filmic understanding of the book – changes in focus and a terrific zoom effect spring immediately to mind – and I like the way that subtly pushes at the boundaries of what the medium can achieve.
Rating: 5 out of 5. The standalone stories as well as the three-issue arc collected here show a level of… well, I want to say maturity, because they’re the most developed (words and images both) that I’ve seen in the series thus far, but maturity implies an icky sense of being a grown-up. Instead, let’s just say accomplishment: this is a stellar entry into the series. If you haven’t read the others yet, you’ve got work to do. If, like me, you’re taking them as you can get them… this is the high-water mark thus far.