TAMBI: Is there anyone in the group you haven’t slept with?
DAVID: Uh....

Two women-- perpetual cheerleader Casey and patriotic thug Tambi—- both want to have David Qin's child. They announce their intentions just as we learn that David has a brain tumor and little time left. Various characters confront a teen magazine’s worth of personal problems, an unidentified serial killer continues to stalk Houston, and an unexpected reunion takes place. The eighteenth Strangers in Paradise trade paperback, Love & Lies serves up strong artwork and many troublesome developments, mere months before the series’ conclusion.

Title: Love & Lies (third series, #77-83)
Author: Terry Moore
ISBN: 1-892597-33-0

Strangers in Paradise has always recalled the afternoon soaps, with a comic book sensibility and better-defined characters. Moore balanced the histrionics with humor and humanity. He continues to do so here, most notably in the handling of David Qin's impending death. However, he charges ahead full angst with these issues, and after so many years he now seems to be reaching.

He has given himself much to resolve before he reaches his much-publicized conclusion. Perhaps the most problematic of these plot developments involves his original principals, Francine and Katchoo.

Several issues ago, their long-anticipated, long-feared ten-year separation began, or so readers thought. Katchoo and Francine established separate lives and began enjoying distinct adventures. Moore had a few options. He could continue with these separate though often parallel plots. He could return to the events that follow their eventual reunion, depicted in Sanctuary. Instead, he has brought together the estranged friends, less than two years after their separation.

Given the likelihood that David will soon die, bringing all of the principals together makes sense. However, Moore has shown Katchoo and Francine dealing, at long last, with their differences. He has shown Francine's marriage already in the desperate straits depicted in the future storyline. In Love & Lies, she has just discovered her husband has been having an affair. She has realized her error in turning away from Katchoo. Yet the overall story arc has established that the two remain separated for ten years after Francine and Brad's wedding. This isn't a minor continuity problem; the separation has played a significant role in past issues. And having a second, later ten-year separation no longer makes much sense.

Moore will have to address these problems in the remaining issues. Love & Lies ends with the main cast reunited, and David still alive.

Instead, on the final page, another character dies.

Moore's artwork remains SiP's strength. It includes conspicuous stylizations. A raging Francine turns into her Peanuts-like rendition from Tropic of Desire again. Katchoo and Francine revert to their teenaged selves while trying to reconcile their differences. I enjoyed these, but I'm often more impressed by his subtly powerful use of images. He has a remarkable ability to communicate through simple lines and shadings. The final six pages, for example, tell their story with very few words and no significant cartoon exaggeration.

The drawings continue to sport strange cameos. While usually gratuitous, these brief moments, celebrities and fictional characters wedged in corners or playing small parts, generally prove amusing and unobtrusive. Love and Lies features Dennis the Menace as one of Casey's relatives and R2-D2 (again) as a park garbage can. Moore even references Spider-man #42 in a way which does not alienate those who miss the allusion. However, one cameo in this issue proves cumbersome and ineffective. The second series appearance of real-life fan Kevin Smith (this time as Silent Bob) intrudes awkwardly into the story with a stupid joke that does not warrant the interruption.

As with its predecessor, Tattoo, Love & Lies provides the reader with glimpses of brilliance. Yet I'm also left with the feeling that Strangers in Paradise, while a remarkable achievement, has not consistently realized its potential.

Moore has given himself seven more issues to show the complete shape of his story. Fans who have stayed with the story will likely follow the characters' adventures to the end.


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