Brian K. Vaughan’s one of those comic writers who might not hit a grand slam every time, but he sure seems to swing for the fences. Saga, Runaways and Y: The Last Man are amazing pieces of long-form comic book storytelling. I’m not the biggest fan of how Ex Machina came to a close and Pride of Baghdad isn’t my thing, but the way this guy attacks his ideas and collaborates with his artists just blows me away every time even if the story isn’t fully up my alley.
So, of course I was interested in checking out The Private Eye, a pay-what-you-want, digital-first series he created with Doctor Strange: The Oath artist Marcos Martin for Panel Syndicate, the company they also started. I actually ready the first issue or two a few y ears back when I had the pleasure of interviewing BKV for CBR, but fell off a bit. When the collection, printed by Image, appeared on the library website, it was an easy request.
This book takes place in a future where the cloud burst, sending everyone’s digital secrets out into the open. As a result, instead of everyone putting everything out there in the world for anyone to see, people keep their privacy incredibly guarded to the point where they take on alternate identities including new names, even masks and costumes to hide themselves. We come to meet P.I., a freelance paparazzi who digs into peoples’ lives for a fee. Along the way, he meets a woman who winds up dead and teams up with her sister to solve the crime, which has much larger implications for the whole world.
The beauty of this book, aside from Martin’s amazing art and the killer designs he incorporates into the series, is how BKV doesn’t just offer one side of the story. Even with the more over-the-top ID-hiding elements, it’s not hard to posit a world where people finally realize (or remember) that privacy is important. But, of course, people take it to a crazy label on the other end too.
P.I.’s grandpa is around sporting wrinkled sleeve tattoos and Kings of Leon t-shirts wondering what happened to the internet and why he can’t play video games with anyone online. He represents some of the more base, but not entirely negative elements of social media while another character tries to negate a teenager’s idea that people only ever used the internet to look at porn. Without digging into it or saying it right on the page, there are allusions to the positive power of these things like helping to overthrow evil regimes and whatnot.
I often wonder why BKV seems to be such a damn good writer. Ultimately, his stories aren’t overly complicated, but so many of us love them. What’s the secret? Part of it is developing these characters with interesting backstories and a few secrets, but not obvious ones that seem to just hang there in front of you like a nice, obvious carrot. I just finished watching Slasher on Chiller and the “everybody’s hiding something” nature of the story felt off-putting and suffocating.
He also builds these amazing, intriguing worlds with his artists that you want to live in, not just read about. And maybe keeping things relatively simple in these complex worlds with these characters you want to hang out with sticks out as one of the major reasons these stories continue to keep him at the top of everyone’s favorite writer lists year after year. Whatever the case may be, I’ll be around to check out everything else he makes.