The first twenty-four issues of Strangers in Paradise’s third series aren’t perfect, but if you wanted to make the fans’ case—-that this is an inventive, highly entertaining graphic novel written with an understanding of personality rare in comix—you’d offer something from those issues as evidence. The subsequent thirteen issues contain many strong moments, but if you wanted to make the critics’ case—that this is a whiney soap opera occasionally interrupted by an entirely unbelievable conspiracy theory—you’d likely turn to these. My Other Life , the eighth Strangers in Paradise trade paperback, collects the first half of this chapter or story arc.
Title: My Other Life (Issues #25-30 of the third series)
Author: Terry Moore.
My Other Life begins well. Two weeks after the events depicted in Sanctuary, Katchoo, Francine, and David go to the beach. Nothing terribly significant happens, but it’s funny and touching.
Even when they return home and things turn to dark thriller, the story still works. When Flight 495 crashes, we see a survivor, a little girl named Patricia, and hear about her future life, her psychiatric problems and the poor coping methods which eventually will lead to her death. Her condensed saga nicely illustrates the human dimension of the crash.
An image of the downed plane follows, and we learn the fate of survivors more central to the plot.
This leads to some awkward moments. Moore's depiction of the crash site falls below his usual high standards. I also feel he missteps when the world learns about the news. His satire of contemporary news has potential. Unfortunately, the humour clashes awkwardly with the seriousness of the scene. I understand the point he is trying to make, but it's belabored and, in terms of dramatic impact, misplaced.
Then we learn that this crash isn't an accident. Veronica, last seen in Immortal Enemies and now completely deranged, has established her own organization and wants to revive the Parker Girls. Much to the chagrin of the Big Six, she arranged the plane crash in the hopes that it would kill David, who has inherited his sister's money and, frankly, wants nothing to do with her world. The plot makes no sense, though I suppose it demonstrates how unrealistically insane she has become. David could easily (and more successfully) be assassinated through conventional means, and his death will accomplish very little. Veronica also holds a grudge against Katchoo, who is likewise vulnerable to, say, bullets. It also staggers the imagination to believe that this person could orchestrate such an event. How would someone as emotionally unstable as Veronica attract and command her underlings?
The Big Six also undercuts the more intimate drama. It’s a great example of what the Turkey City Lexicon calls the "Squid on the Mantelpiece." To quote, "it's hard to properly dramatize, say, the domestic effects of Dad's bank overdraft when a giant writhing kraken is levelling the city." Unfortunately, Moore does not handle this particular "squid" very well. When he writes about the smaller matters, the story works. When the vast, Illuminati-esque criminal plots take center stage, the story falters.
The character Tambi asks of Katchoo, "Who is this starving artist David talks about?... Can this be the same woman who once ran the world’s most powerful empire from the wings?" The fact is, I don’t see how it can be, either.
My Other Life also introduces Brad Silver, Francine's future husband1. As it concludes, the fates of David and Katchoo grow doubtful. Or rather, David's does; earlier issues have already shown us the future, and we know that Katchoo, at least, will survive.
However, the Big Six require her help, and this fact will drag the next issues further into conspiracy theory territory.
Randy Jackson, of Four Color Explosion, dropped the series at about this point, and he summed up the feelings of many readers:
I found Francine and Katchoo a hundred times more interesting. So all the intrigue, murder, explosions and double-dealing were just getting in the way of a good story, much like a Hollywood movie that's pretty decent three quarters of the way through that suddenly descends into chase scenes and gunfights when the premise of the movie shouldn't have taken it anywhere near chase scenes and gunfights.
Many more issues pass before Moore returns Strangers in Paradise to the comic his readers had come to know and love.
1. Fannish nitpick: an interesting false start becomes apparent in these issues. We’ve known for some time that Francine’s future husband will be named Brad. In Sanctuary, she meets an unseen man by that name. In My Other Life, she meets the definitive Brad Silver. Was this an error on Moore's part, or a deliberate red herring?