In the first issue of Pat Shand’s Breathless, we were introduced to a somewhat fantastical premise of an underworld of violent monsters that seemed to also give rise to an industry of cures that posed a threat to the pharmaceutical industry. In the second issue, we saw the violence that exploded apparently as a result of the industry fighting back for its survival. In the latest installment, we finally start getting some answers to the questions that have been surrounding this saga of bloodthirsty cryptids and big pharmaceutical executives, along with some unexpected and welcome irony, humor and much needed relationship building.
As the title of this month’s issue promises, the focus is mostly on Arthur Mathis, Scout and Grace-Eisley’s boss and head of the cryptozoologist lab. After an absence in the previous issue, we find that he didn’t exactly walk away scot-free either. He appears riddled with bullets and with a syringe sticking out of his neck, along with a glowing eye as the authorities descend on the lab and take him into their custody as he faints into unconsciousness. After an awesome moment with Grace-Eisley that finally reveals her vulnerability, both physically and emotionally, Scout steels herself and sneaks into the hospital that Mathis is transported to in the aftermath of this event. She throws the accusation at him that seems obvious, that Mathis was the one who pulled off the attacks and got paid handsomely to keep quiet about it or at worst, mastermind it. The truth is, Mathis is actually way less impressive and cunning than everyone, including Scout, has been giving him credit for.
The Paulie Walnuts lookalike who works for the pharmaceutical company arrived at the lab, coming across like an innocent investor interested in collaborating, only to shoot down Mathis once he unwittingly revealed the location of the cures sourced from the monsters. Mathis then injected himself with one of the cures to survive the attack, despite the fact that none of his colleagues had the opportunity to do so. The story of Mathis ends with Scout raising a few final questions that Mathis can’t or won’t really answer, in regards to the identity of “Paulie” and also concerning the mysterious salary structure at their now former lab. Needless to say, by the end of this sequence, Mathis has been reduced from the confident, intimidating boss who looked down on Scout to someone who is nothing more than a selfish coward that got played for his stupidity and now has no other hope other than Scout. It’s certainly not what I was expecting, so Shand indeed lives up to my hopes of surprising me.
As for the rest of the issue, Shand decides to elevate the previously mysterious Farren to the second supporting character and pairs her mostly with Grace-Eisley while Scout meets with Mathis. The result is some delicious and uncomfortable humor. Those who have kept up with the previous issues will have deduced that Grace-Eisley is a classic fresh-faced prude of sorts who doesn’t have very many street smarts. She is clearly heavily reliant in life on Claire, her girlfriend who embodies “tough” moreso than any character in the story not named Scout. So when she is forced to “hang out” with Farren, who was hinted at and is now fully revealed to be a sexual deviant of sort, sparks fly in hilarious ways. There is talk about full body experiences with some of the cryptids, a bed used for obvious purposes scattered with “equipment” keeps showing up in the foreground of numerous shots, and some pictures are snapped for Instagram. Nevertheless, Grace-Eisley continues to grow as she warms to Farren and by the end she is even on a first name basis with the Springheels, the new additions to the story who are Farren’s cryptid minions of a sort that are used for her espionage purposes in exchange for an opportunity to…”bust.” Yeah, I’ll leave it to your imagination.
Mostly everything works in this issue, but there are a few things that didn’t quite take off. For one, Claire, Grace Eisley’s tough girlfriend, seems to have been shoehorned into the plot unnecessarily. If we got a break from seeing Mathis in the last issue and got a break from seeing what appears to be the mastermind of everything (Kenilworth, the pharmaceutical executive) in this issue, then I wasn’t sure what the significance of or need for her scene was. Also, while the Springheels are a nice and amusing addition to the story, it seems that all the action and even movement in the story has been delegated to them. I reviewed the action shots in this issue and was surprised to find that other than one scene with Paulie, all the other characters do pretty much nothing but talk. While I appreciate that the focus was once again on building the plot, similar to Issue 1, it seems to create some predictability that the last issue is going to be nothing but action. Hopefully the pacing is mixed up a bit in the final issue. Lastly, the plot seems to have veered completely away from asking the broad sociopolitical questions around healthcare, which is disappointing because that was the original premise this series was built on. Perhaps these topics will be raised again in the finale when we hopefully learn the full story behind the pharmaceutical company.
The issue of pacing seems to wear a bit on the art as well, as most of the panels are just of characters talking to each other. But Rodriguez, to his credit, tries to make the most of it. He really adds to the discomfort that Farren generates by depicting her abode as full of interesting accessories and tools, shall we say, and pushes the limits of depravity but never in a way that ends up being tasteless. The Springheels also give Rodriguez an opportunity to depict something a bit different, as they are vital to the movement of the plot in the story. I also liked the parallels between the tubes housing the Springheels and the laboratory visual near the end of the story. Given a few questions that were raised about Scout in this story (with regards to her physical condition as well as her motivations), it makes one wonder if we are being told that there’s more than meets the eye regarding who the “good guys” and “bad guys” are.
To Shand’s credit, a lot of what I was hoping for in this issue was addressed. He does indeed throw some twists, turns and surprises, specifically with regards to Mathis and unexpectedly with the Grace-Eisley/Farren relationship. He also proved me wrong with regards to the cryptids being “fully accounted for,” in a major way. While the lack of a return to sociopolitical elements and a few other concerns hold this back from being a truly transcendental story, this series has been a lot of fun and I can’t wait to see how things wrap up.