Strangers in Paradise #90
Writer/Artist/Letters/Cover artist: Terry Moore
Publisher: Abstract Studios
Price: $2.99 US/$4 CAN
My one-time reviewing partner Randy Lander introduced me to the world of Strangers in Paradise a few years ago, and I was immediately drawn into Terry Moore’s unique love story. Predominantly about a romantic triangle, the story also boasted crime-story elements, sitcom-like humor and even a touch of espionage-genre intrigue. I followed the series religiously for a while, even during its stint at Image Comics, but eventually, it felt as though nothing was getting resolved. After a move and a missed issue or two, I lost touch with the title altogether. With the release of its final issue, though, I jumped at the chance to revisit these characters and see the ultimate culmination of Moore’s vision for his cherished characters, Katchoo, Francine and David. This concluding issue held a couple of surprises, but more importantly, it offered exactly the sort of ending I would imagine fans desired. In some ways, Moore’s wrap-up seems too neat. The ever-after proves to be a little too happy. On the other hand, there’s such a pure, hopeful tone to the script that one can’t help but become infected by the joy. As enjoyable as the ending is, what’s most impressive is the series as a whole. Terry Moore is to be applauded for delivering this title consistently and reliably for so many years, all on his own.
It’s been weeks since Francine and Katchoo’s dear friend David died, and they’ve managed to pick up the pieces of their lives. While Katchoo’s exorbitant inheritance is tied up in federal red tape, she and Francine head to the bank to get approved for a mortgage for their dream house. Casey and Tambi arrive in town with news from Washington that will change their lives. They’re not the only ones with news, as Francine and Katchoo both make happy revelations of their own. Anger, chaos and violence are behind them. All that’s left for them is love.
Moore’s soft style really brings out the humanity in this cast of female characters. Despite the fact that three of the four main players here are blondes, Moore distinguishes among them with seeming ease; of course, he’s lived with these characters for years, so it probably comes easy to him now. I also like how the two stars of the series, Francine and Katchoo, aren’t portrayed as impossibly perfect ideals of feminine physicality. They aren’t super-models, but their beauty still shines through. I was also struck by what a strong visual presence Francine has here. She’s not just taller than Katchoo; she’s definitely grown more centered and confident than the character I remember from a few years ago. My only real qualm with the art is the fact that Moore’s backgrounds are lacking at times. There are scenes that really don’t have a strong sense of place.
Offering this final issue with three covers is fitting. Variant covers are a bane of the industry at the moment, but given what this issue represents, something special was in order. Those readers who stick with purchasing a single issue will likely say a lot about what drew them to the series in the first place by which character cover — Katchoo, Francine or David — is selected.
It seems Moore has crafted his final issue mindful of the fact that some “lost” readers such as I would return to see how things turned out. Clearly, a lot has transpired in these characters’ lives, including the death of a significant player, but Moore’s script is crafted in such a way one needn’t be intimately familiar with all of the previous details. As I noted earlier, the happy ending is a bit too happy: Francine and Katchoo are not only finally together, but they’re forming a family without ever having to worry about everyday concerns such as work. I think I would have preferred something a little more grounded, showing that happiness is within everyone’s grasp, not just those independently wealthy people who have lived extraordinary and unusual lives. Nevertheless, one can’t help but cheer for these characters. It helps to know just how difficult their journey has been up to this point. Their tidy ending is satisfying and encouraging; it brought a smile to my face.
My biggest gripe about the story is how Moore, after so many years, continues to beat around the bush about the connection between Katchoo and Francine. It’s clear here that they’re a couple, deeply in love and committed to one another. The problem is that Moore limits the physicality of that love to hugging. They talk about marriage. They have pet names for one another. I’m not saying I need to see them in bed naked together, but how about a kiss? In the midst of such joy, delayed after so long, I just don’t buy the restraint we see here. There’s no need to show us panting, humping or fornicating, but I don’t see why Moore avoids a certain level of physical intimacy between the two characters.
There’s been a lot written about Terry Moore online in the past week or so, but the focus seems to be on what he’s doing next (namely, Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane). It’s not his first foray into super-hero characters owned by others; he did work on Rob Liefeld’s Lady Supreme, for example. But it’s his body of self-published work about which people should be talking. As an independent publisher and creator, he’s a member of a small and elite club that includes such impressive names as Jeff (Bone) Smith and Dave (Cerebus) Sim. In the realm of indy comics, there are few titles that one could point to as being more successful than SiP. I hope this isn’t the end of his independent efforts, but I am pleased to learn that he’ll be reaching a wider audience with his upcoming work-for-hire projects. 7/10