Katchoo wakes up after a Las Vegas bender and finds herself married to longtime friend David. After dealing with a stalker pursuing one of Casey’s showgirl friends, she returns to Houston and continues her art career. The series’ other principal Francine, tries to settle into married life. She and her husband Brad move to Houston, and her parents reunite.
Title: Tattoo (third series, #70-72, 74-76)
Author: Terry Moore.
A strange thing happens in this seventeenth Strangers in Paradise trade paperback, the issues of which were bifurcated by the final chapter of Molly & Poo. In the first section, Moore sets up a Las Vegas mystery involving Katchoo, David, Casey, and Casey’s friend Rusty. Rusty seeks clues in the unsolved disappearance of her husband. When she attracts a disturbed stalker, the characters once again face danger. While this plot develops, David and Katchoo address the fact that they married while under the influence. These sorts of things happen in SiP, and Moore allows the story to develop.
Then he abandons the plot. The stalker gets taken down quickly, and a section heavy with expository prose (and lines like "the truth hit me like a ton of bricks") forcibly concludes the various storylines. We even catch a glimpse of Rusty’s future, though we never learn the fate of her missing husband. It plays very like an author becoming bored with his current project. In the second half we return to Houston and a brand new story arc, one reminiscent of SiP’s early years.
Nothing terribly original happens, but Moore handles it well. If he cannot bring Francine and Katchoo back together, he makes use of many other familiar series elements. Human comedy takes center stage. Freddie Femur returns, older if not entirely wiser. He rants immoderately and insults people. We even get treated to the sight of Femur drunk and singing "Freebird" at a gala. He has, however, developed some affection for Katchoo. The supporting cast at the studio continues to show potential. As a bonus, recurring doofus Pat makes his first cameo in some time, serving drinks at an important function. Characterization remains generally strong, though Katchoo becomes something of a self-parody in two sequences where she’s left alone too long
The single funniest bit in Tattoo involves a "Still Life" and a "Life Drawing" class resolving a scheduling conflict. The most dramatically effective is a sequence which parallels problems with both central characters’ new marriages.
After forcing closure on the first arc, Moore introduces a new danger in the second. It might have made more sense to allow the first to somehow carry into the second, if Moore was growing tired of the Vegas setting. In any case, it’s a development typical of Tattoo, which features good material that never reaches its potential.
If his story falters somewhat, Terry Moore continues to produce excellent, understated artwork. The use of small details in the opening sequence, the menacing depiction of Rusty’s stalker, the park landscape in #76, and the variety of realistic body types all demonstrate his talent. He also continues to include oddball details. The showgirls’ seamstress, for example, resembles Edith Head/Edna Mode.
Moore’s quirkiness remains. At least three times, the artwork turns momentarily cartoony, to good effect. One page becomes "SiP Thimble Theater with Jet Jones" and hilariously recalls the weekend color comics of an earlier era—though those features never would have riffed on the word vagina.
A cat named Maggie narrates one brief section.
In addition to the reprinted comics, Tattoo features a photo section of fan’s SiP-related tattoos which reveal their devotion for the series. Some of Moore’s sketches appear which reveal his behind-the-scenes process. Finally, the usual cover gallery has been included, and the artwork suggests Terry was more comfortable when Francine and Katchoo were together.
These issues show glimpses of Strangers in Paradise at its most entertaining, but also clear indications of a series suffering from fatigue. Little wonder that shortly after Tattoo appeared, Moore announced he soon would bring his story to a definite conclusion.