Facebook. Twitter. Linked In. Blogs. Webcams. TMZ. There’s no such things as privacy anymore. Everyone knows everything about everyone else. Imagine if that was gone tomorrow and everything we’ve come to consider as “real” about the internet just went poof. What if we all had our privacy back and then the true power in the world become the people who knew how to discover the secrets? Patrick Immelmann, a codeword as much as it is an alias, is one of those people. Even worse, he’s the paparazzi, taking pictures and tracking down old loves from the bushes outside of high rise apartments. It’s a risky job but when a woman comes to Patrick, wanting him to discover what secrets are hidden in her closet, Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin dance with every private eye movie cliche even the world they play in looks nothing like those old black and white movies.
I’ll admit that something has never quite clicked for me in Brian K. Vaughan’s writing. There’s a cleverness to his writing in Y The Last Man, Pride of Baghdad and even Saga which feels slightly more like performance than storytelling. While he can string together plots of fantastic ideas (last boy on Earth, West Wing with superpowers, Romeo and Juliet in space,) none of it feels natural as the writer is always in the corner of almost every panel going “look at me and see how witty I am.” With Private Eye, that cleverness is buffered by the straightforwardness of his writing. The central scene, where the potential femme fatale enters Immelmann’s office is straight out of The Maltese Falcon, Who Framed Roger Rabbit or any number of private eye stories. In this comic, Vaughan is actually playing the part of the straight man, setting up Marcos Martin to wow and dazzle the audience with his dazzling chops. In Saga, Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples are equal partners in the wackiness but in Private Eyes, Vaughan seems happy to be the idea man while he lets Martin be the one who gets up on stage and ham it up a bit.
But even Martin, who’s able to let loose with people walking around with fish or tiger heads, makes everything feel so subdued and calm. With his graceful line and quiet staging of panels, Martin makes this silly looking world more real. For all of the different ideas that Vaughan throws out through his dialogue (paparazzi as criminals, journalists as police,) Martin makes this world feel anything but impossible. Counting on the fact that this is the future, Martin takes the liberties he needs with depicting a society that’s a bit different than our but his art is just so frank that all the images of costumes and altered appearances just look to be the natural procession of fashion.
Martin and colorist Munsta Vicente draw a story that’s nice, clear and easy to read. They ground the story with visuals that play with the same familiar beats as Vaughan’s story. The comic feels familiar even as the creators are throwing all of these different concepts at the page. Over in Saga, Vaughan’s other hit right now, Fiona Staples’ artwork and Vaughan’s story always seem to be competing to see who can one-up the other. They’re each trying to set the scene in a way that dazzles the reader, creating this heightened sense of inventiveness to that book. Martin’s art could easily skew that way but he downplays it in most of the pages, carefully timing the moments when he wants to dazzle the reader and remind them that this isn’t a world that they know as well as they think they do.
As obvious as it may sound, The Private Eye is a private eye story. Vaughan and Martin wholeheartedly accept the story they’re telling is one that’s been told at least a thousand times before but know that it’s how they dress it up that will set it apart. After a thrilling opening sequence, they settle into a nice grove where they play up the mystery of the characters and their situations instead of specialness of the world that they’re inventing. The mysteries of the characters supersedes that preciousness that Vaughan injects almost every other story he writes with while Martin’s art plays perfectly with Vaughan’s flavor of storytelling.