In a future, long after the digital cloud has burst, exposing everyone’s cyber secrets, people no longer use the internet and most only appear in public with the aid of an alter ego, privacy being of the utmost importance. In this world where the sharing of information must remain transparent, policing the law and journalism are one in the same; likewise private investigators are seen as lowly paparazzi and are strictly outlawed. It is in this world where Immelmann, a crack P.I, plies his trade, but when his latest client turns up dead the circumstances could lead to a most extreme and unwanted change of lifestyle for everyone on the planate.
Sometimes fiction can predict real events to a timely and uncanny degree. Take the comic here reviewed for instance, conceived of in 2011 by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin, The Private Eye, then called Secret Society, was to be a colourful yet noir-ish P.I story set at a time when people would hold privacy in a higher regard than we currently do.
To create a world in which this ideal backdrop would be plausible to a relatable degree, a scenario was engineered that would explain away the banishment of the internet with enough severity to push people into going about their daily lives in disguise. The answer to Vaughan was a simple one, if ‘the cloud burst’, which is to say, all people’s private information from the internet way laid bare for everyone to see, so many lives and businesses, rich and poor alike, would be ruined in such a short amount of time that the entire world would be galvanised into change.
Fast forward to 2013 when The Private Eye saw its first publication as an admirable ten-part webcomic in which readers may pay whatever they cared to for each chapter, and no sooner was it online when news erupted of Edward Snowden leaking evidence that the C.I.A was gathering information on private citizens, then, about a year later a story even closer to the bone hit the headlines, when Sony Entertainment’s online information, which included employee details, salaries, private correspondences and future production scripts, was thrown onto the web in raw form for everyone to see.
Suffice to say that all this made this already fantastically conceived and realised sci-fi, detective story more topical and important that its creators could ever have hoped for.
Now collected into a beautiful, prestige format, hardcover graphic novel, published by Image comics, The Private Eye could and should take pride of place on every comic and sci-fi fans bookshelves.
Ostensibly a very by-the-numbers but endlessly entertaining plot that could stand side by side with such books as those penned by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett or movies of the Chinatown variety, Vaughan has also used The Private Eye as a vehicle for his remarkable ability of world building, which is simultaneously dense with ideas and potential yet surgically minimal of wordy back-story and exposition; the breadth and history of this future being revealed organically with the story. Anyone who has read anything by Vaughan before will know that his handle on character and dialogue are near flawless, which is as true here as with the best of his other work.
Originally working together on Doctor Strange: The Oath, one of the best Doctor Strange stories ever told, Vaughan has the perfect partner to tell this story with in Marcos Martin, who’s clean, simplistic style belies an effortless brilliance in layout, storytelling and design, both character and architectural.
Designing each page to be viewed in landscape rather than the usual portrait generally used for comics allows Martin to tell the story in a way that adds width to his sparsely lined images, giving the numerous cityscapes a kind of room to breath and expand into that a regular comic page simply cannot do. It also adds a frenetic natural motion to the story that compliments the breakneck pace of the plot thematically and, during action sequences, perceptibly, with the characters looking as if they’re going to explode out of the side of the page.
Adding to the singular futuristic aesthetic are Munsta Vicente’s striking colours, which as a compliment to Martin’s work are deceptively simplistic, yet somehow manage retain a film noir quality while shocking the senses with a palate of bright purples and greens and turquoises.
These visual executions and experimentations perfectly illustrate what comics can do that books, TV shows and movies still can’t. The depth and texture of the future that this story is set in couldn’t be adequately relayed by simple prose; an original concept probably wouldn’t garner the kind of budget necessary to realise it in film and even if it did, a team of designers and producers would add a more conventional, no doubt darker more cluttered tone to the visuals, disposing of the original, graphic brilliance that overrides total aesthetic logic for punch and eye-catching beauty.
The Private Eye is a cracking, layered and topical science fiction mystery-thriller with an ease of storytelling, pace and visual flare that makes it very difficult to put down. It’s compelling to the very end, managing to be original and a throwback to stories of old while having more to say about our current state of privacy than any news item. In short it’s the best kind of graphic novel, so save up some pennies and get it bought.