Scream, run and hide from big monsters — real and metaphorical — because Breathless is back and coming for you!
The issue kicks off with a flashback, where we see Scout, our protagonist, three years ago with her primary focus on her asthma and the necessary healthcare to treat it. We witness what is apparently her first meeting with Mathis, the sketchy boss from the previous issue. Scout is no less confident than she was before; deftly navigating her way into a higher pay, albeit without the insurance she so desperately is looking for.
Flash back to present day and Scout is still desperate, except for the fact that she’s dealing with something a little more problematic than a lack of insurance — this time, she’s facing down a slobbering, deadly monster (known as a “drinker”) that has just massacred all of her coworkers (except for one). Unfortunately, the creature is alerted to her presence as Scout’s companion Grace-Eisley takes off in panic, and the duo has to hide in a lab (where a dead drinker’s body is lying, unclear how it got there). As Scout prepares to shoot down the incoming creature (who is in the process of breaking down the door), she thinks back to her childhood and one of the experiences that toughened her up, and then she comes back to the present and proceeds to show that to the monster (with an unexpected assist from Grace-Eisley). They make their way out of the building (although not before being chased off by yet another drinker) and the two come to realize that the massacre and the monsters being sent to their workplace was a setup. It seems obvious the intent was to shut down the potential asthma cure identified in the last issue.
Upon realizing this, Grace-Eisley fears for her girlfriend, Clare, the cop who we saw in the last issue made her swoon because of her toughness. Fortunately, as Scout and Grace-Eisley arrive at the home, they learn that Clare has the ability to fend off the drinkers as well as Scout did and a third drinker is lying dead in her apartment. However, the similarities between Scout and Clare end there — Scout may be externally weak with her asthma and small frame, but she questions authority and stands up to it, whether it’s her boss, the pharmaceutical system, or even her aunt. Clare on the other hand is externally strong and even macho, but does not question authority and prefers to play things safe and easy. Grace-Eisley is presented with this fascinating study in contrasts and rather than staying with Clare at home, she chooses to go with Scout, the skeptic.
This sequence combined with the following scene where Grace-Eisley indicates to Scout that she’s not 100% sold on her idea, demonstrates some great character depth for a character who seemed to be added initially for just pure comic relief. In the same scene, we also see the answer to my question from the last issue of what motivates Scout, and it’s her obsession over being left to suffer through her asthma to the point where she will continue to buy her medication even though the incident from the previous issue appeared to have cured her. She just is too paranoid to take any chances. To round out the issue, we find out what the final drinker was up to and get confirmation of the roles played by several of the parties introduced in the last issue. The ending is a bit anti-climactic, where rather than show the revelation of Scout’s aunt having been killed by the drinker, we get Scout’s succubus friend Farren saying how scared they should be.
Given the circumstances, I liked the tactic of packing all the action into one issue. Shand only has four issues to tell his story, and he is wisely using the tactic of setting the stage in the previous issue, packing a bunch of action in this issue, and likely will throw in some dramatic twists and turns in the next chapter before closing it out in issue #4. However, I wonder if there was a bit too much of clearing the decks. We now know that the drinker monsters are off the table as a scene with the Paulie Walnuts look-alike makes it clear that there are only “four assets” and we see dead bodies of four drinkers throughout the issue. On the monster front, Shand has basically forced himself into throwing some surprises our way in the next issue to keep the story flowing and perhaps signaling that the drinkers were all dead may have created some predictability for the next issue.
The predictability factor also rears its head with the fact that what was subtly implied in the last issue with respect to the reasoning behind the massacre, the motivations of “Paulie,” and the nefariousness of the pharma exec father and son is simply confirmed here, with no additional nuances thrown in — again, it seems like Shand has forced himself into pinning all the twists onto Mathis, even titling the next issue “The Actual Net Worth of Arthur Mathis.”
On the flip side, it was nice to see some much-needed character growth for Grace-Eisley, who evolves from being a one-note plot device to a character with depth and range. While we also got some exploration for Scout as well, it was much more limited and she comes across as pretty one-dimensional, alternating between being angry or annoyed and not showing much else complexity otherwise which is concerning for the main character.
On the visuals, Rodriguez and Carpenter continue to keep things quite impressive. The drinkers immediately reminded me of Venom, with their sharp teeth, tall frame and signature tongue. In this issue in general, there is a lot of violence, blood and even brains spilling out. In many other cases, this would give artists the perfect excuse to get sloppy. However, in this book the inking is probably some of the crispest and cleanest I’ve ever seen in a comic, where everything just feels taut, well-structured and consistent. Also, it seems that the artists here remember the passage of time, which is an easy thing to forget in works of fiction but in many books this isn’t considered because you start a series at issue 1 where it’s night and by the time the series wraps up it’s still night. While this may be part of the story, sometimes it’s hard to conceptualize that so much can happen in such little time. I also bring this up because there are tonal shifts in shading and coloring as the scenes move from day to night that reflect a lot of the thought, but perhaps there was a missed opportunity to see one of the drinkers up close in daylight. Lastly, I want to give a shoutout to letterer Jim Campbell for not just sticking with the all-caps letters but experimenting with lower-case letters at one point in the book to emphasize the hopelessness/direness of the situation.
After a welcome blast of action in this issue, I’m hoping we get back to some new twists, turns and revelations and more importantly, that Shand draws on more of the real-world parallels he talked up before the series began and were shown in the first issue. This continues to be a great series with an intriguing story/script and artists that show great care, but the way things have been structured may have unnecessarily put a lot of pressure on the whole team to knock it out of the park in the next issue. I’m rooting for them.
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