The Short Version: A superstorm is bearing down on the City and a nearly-invisible sniper is on a rampage in the Print District. Spider, gone to ground after his last run-in with the President, is on the trail of the story before an accident (or was it an assassination attempt?) brings him to his knees and brings his increasingly unstable medical condition to the fore. But Spider’s not going to give up just yet.
The Review: Holy shit is this an incredible installment. The storytelling here is absolutely the best it has been in the entire series thus far – and Darick Robertson and Rodney Ramos are crushing it with their drawing/inking, respectively. But mostly importantly, you know how sometimes you just sit down and read something and it just clicks with the way everything in the world looks at any given moment?
Yeah, that’s this installment. Sitting on a gray day in the apartment in the City where I rode out the “superstorm” (which, judging from what Spider and the media report here, was not even a near-near-superstorm in the Transmet world) and thinking about the unrest in Egypt and the unrest at home… And as a cool breeze ripples through my window, promising just the faintest hints of fall, there is a sense of correctness about this installment and about my reading of it. It’s hard to derive the same amount of pleasure from a single graphic novel installment of a serialized comic as one might from a novel – the length issue, of course – but this nearly did it for me.
The characters who we’ve come to know and love/loathe are facing things out of their control in this installment and it humanizes them. Spider, especially, makes some real changes here: his illness, which he’s been hiding as long as he could, finally can’t be hidden anymore. And it’s a bad one, threatening to knock him out of commission within a year. And while there are definitely some brief instances of “moping” and “despondency”, there’s also a renewed sense of purpose. As Spider himself says, “we can do deadlines” and there isn’t a bigger deadline that this one. But the moments after he’s come to again, after four days in a coma, are some of the most beautiful things Ellis has ever written. And Robertson catches the relative strangeness of such beauty so perfectly. As Yelena tells Spider that she wrote his column, she flinches from him – but he kisses her on the forehead and thanks her. And when Channon gives him a new pair of glasses, his fumbling thank you… they all get emotional and then get over it, but it’s all just the awkwardness of something far too true, far too uncomfortable to sustain itself for too long.
Plot-wise, too, this one is a zinger. There’s a proper mystery at hand and we see Spider doing some real serious journalism/detective work – and then the interesting roundabout of catching up with the story four days later, realizing that they missed their window but putting it all together nonetheless. Up until the last few pages, I was thinking that the sniper and the “blue flu” had been a bit underplayed, had disappeared from the story too quickly – but when it all came together, it was brilliant. Could it have been more fleshed out? Sure – but there’s a limited amount of space for these guys to work in and plus: there are more important things looming. The big showdown between Spider and the Smiler is coming – and after the horrifying move the Smiler pulls at the end of this collection, you can just see it: Spider might be going down in flames but he’s not stopping until he drags the Smiler to Hell with him, burning all the way.
Rating: 5+ out of 5. This is perfection, as far as this series goes. I really hope it sustains at this level for the last two installments, because I’d hate for this to’ve been the crowning moment – especially when everything seems like it can only get even more awesome. For fans of the series, this will make you want to rush out and buy the next two installments without delay – and if you aren’t reading the series, how many times do I have to tell you (in the words of Spider himself) to get off your asses and get cracking? We all hate it here – but Spider makes us remember that it’s still worth fighting for.