Friday, April 26, 2013

Pull List Review: The Answer! #4

This would have been a much better issue if it wasn't supposed to be the last of a series. I get the feeling Dennis Hopeless and Mike Norton wanted more space to tell this story, and certainly the ending indicates that they have hopes for either a sequel or an ongoing series to follow this. But because there's no promise that'll happen, this issue is forced to try and bring things to a conclusion, and the results are jumbled at best.
     There's an awful lot of dismissive half-explanations and people saying something "doesn't matter" when, in fact, it totally matters. Chip, presumably the main villain, shows up out of nowhere to info dump on Devin, the protagonist. But what he tells Devin is confusing, half-finished, and undoes a lot of the preceding story. Turns out the Brain Trust that recruited Devin isn't even real, although I'm not sure what that means since obviously there are a bunch of real people there who are really working on things and taking weird mind-enhancing drugs and so on. In some convoluted way, though, the Brain Trust is just a branch of or front for Chip's Apeiron, an evil organization devoted, according to Chip, to specifically hunting down Devin. Why would they care so much about one individual, you ask? Because of some ridiculous backstory tying her to Chip from years ago that gets inserted into the narrative quite forcibly. When she was eight, Devin accidentally unlocked the secret to some magical equation that opens a rift in existence leading...somewhere. Chip witnessed Devin's inadvertent discovery way back when, and has been hunting her ever since to try and get her to do it again. In his delusional mind, entering the rift will grant him power or a new life or...something. I'm not 100% sure what he thinks it will accomplish, honestly, because as unnaturally expository as most of his dialogue is, it still doesn't supply a lot of concrete information.
     We do finally see the face of The Answer's ally, Jay, only to learn that he, too, is involved in this adventure because of what Devin did as a child. Jay was the only person other than Chip to witness it, and just as Chip's been tracking Devin down, Jay's been protecting her in the years that followed. Which is alright as far as it goes, but also makes Jay kind of creepy, something Devin even points out, understandably disturbed by the notion of someone secretly watching her for her entire life. What Jay cannot do is answer any of the innumerable questions about The Answer, such as who he is or how he comes back from the dead so quickly. Which means that the title freaking character, who's name is literally The Answer, remains as mysterious as he was when he first saw him.
     Maybe that's the point? "Haha, his name is The Answer but we don't answer anything about him." And I'm down with that, whether it's intentional or not. He's an enigma with an ironic name, and keeping his identity and powers obscured is arguably the best and biggest joke of the series. But it would feel like a stronger decision if the rest of the story had stuck the landing. With all the rushed and incomplete wrap-up work that fills this issue, ignoring The Answer just comes across as unavoidable. They didn't even have space to conclude the plot satisfactorily, so how could they be expected to explain every character?
     There are some clear pacing problems, too. The dramatic climax comes at just the right moment, where Devin reopens the rift and The Answer has his showdown with Chip, and there is a natural wind down afterward when Devin meets Jay. But then the very last scene is a jarring second action sequence where Devin's library is blown up, a team of heavily-armed dudes shows up to nab her again, and she and The Answer handily defeat them. I can see that the idea here is to show Devin coming into her own, using her new-found rift-opening abilities actively to defend herself against those who would use her for evil. Which is a great thing for her to do...if I'm ever going to see her again. I mean, it's not a terrible or illogical place to have her character end up at the close of this mini-series either, but it reads much more like the end of an arc that will launch into the next one than a true finale. Devin, Jay, and The Answer are fully a team now that Devin knows who's after her and (to some extent) why, so now it's time for them to have their next adventure, right? Certainly that seems to be what Hopeless and Norton have in mind, and I'm rooting for them to get their wish, but I would've preferred it if they'd still treated this issue as the last. There are just way too many questions remaining, mysteries half-solved and loose ends dangling freely. This is not, by any stretch, a bad comic, but it is a weak and rushed last issue.
     Norton still brings it on the art, though, which has been a strength of the title all along. When Chip has Devin visualize herself battling a giant squid, Norton renders the animal in all its terrifying enormity. The library explosion looks great, and I got a damn good chuckle out of The Answer jumping a motorcycle through the smoke while machine-gunning a bunch of the baddies. And though plot details were confusing, none of the action ever was. Norton is a mighty fine visual storyteller, and not one shred of that is lost here, even if the story itself wasn't up to snuff. Most importantly, Devin was perfect on every page as always, her bravery and intelligence coming through powerfully in the art, starting with the very first page, which is a splash of a close-up on her face. She's the real reason to read this book, and Norton appreciates that fact and gives her the appropriate level of detail and depth.
     I liked this series a lot, and I want to see more of it. I want to have my questions answered and have the answers I've been given clarified. I want to spend more time with Devin and The Answer both, either together or separately. And so, I suppose inasmuch as it left me wanting more, this issue was a success. But it was not successful in providing any sense of closure to the story it told.

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