How do you solve the murder of your former mentor in a world hell-bent on serving you lies? With a little bit of truth, of course. Aftershock’s new dystopian neo-noir mystery series comes to a close with Bylines in Blood #4 and heightens the story’s applicability to our modern world with the unmasking of the Hidden King.
SPOILERS AHEAD for Bylines In Blood #4!
After Satya was framed for Mayor Wilkes’ brutal murder in Bylines In Blood #3, she now has to work with his corrupt cops to help find the real killer and clear her name. She meets them in the cool blue alleyways of The City and one of the cops pulls out a crystalline, almost kryptonite-shaped device that encases the group in what appears to be a large soap bubble. The device is assumed to protect them from outside ears and eyes and immediately immerses you into both the visual and narrative world of the issue, relaying that the supposed security of futuristic flashiness can be easily popped.
Satya, after some more sleuthing and learning that her brother Irman has been kidnapped, meets with Truther leader Jenn for help only to reveal that he’s been the Hidden King all along. Knowing it’s a trap, Satya puts Tom in her place to be able to ambush Jenn and his Truther crew, donned with one of their eyeball space helmets no less. Artist Aneke has never had an issue with creating dynamic action sequences, and she doesn’t disappoint in Bylines In Blood #4 either with Satya taking on multiple people to reach Jenn. A two-page spread of Satya climbing stairs and whacking bad guys is particularly enticing, the subtle red/blue/green color scheme moving along with the characters.
The final confrontation with the Hidden King aka Jenn is just as visually appealing, resulting in a big action movie climax that delivers in its thrill. Letterer Cardinal Rae’s onomatopoeia highlights the action at impactful moments which builds nicely to the final one. This sequence hits all of its beats too, especially the final panel with Satya’s bloodied hand that confirms her survival.
However, these big, beautiful layouts leave less room for character development and resolution. Jenn’s big bad reveal at first felt somewhat underwhelming considering his typical villainous demeanor from the start, and also because there wasn’t as much room to explore the reveal. There’s also the chameleon-ed assassin of Mayor Wilkes who is hastily revealed to be Jenn’s brother but not quite explained, and some resolution around Irman and the rest of Satya’s family that leaves much to be desired.
This is in part due to the limited page number, almost inviting the question of whether the series should have spread out to five issues instead of just four. Though I think my wanting for every single space to be fleshed out shows the intense intrigue the world of Bylines In Blood holds. The four issues are certainly enough to explore co-writers Erica Schultz and Van Jensen’s main themes of truth and morality, and in taking away attention from these smaller details, the story can focus on the main ones with greater clarity.
For example, the clear dichotomy between what the ironically named Hidden King preaches (truth and transparency) and what he does (lie and deceive). It harkens to modern-day companies’ hypocritical marketing around social issues, like how big oil companies promote “eco-friendliness.” The familiar trappings of a surveillance society under capitalism are blatant in Jenn’s desire to sell his eyeball cameras under the guise of increased “truth.” It delivers on the promise that Bylines In Blood #1 had to tell a story eerily familiar to today’s world under the thin glamor of a dystopian future.
We may not be witnessing this particular dystopia in full, but the similarities show that we aren’t far from it. Perhaps what we need are more adventures with Satya Chatterjee aka Lady Dick in a potential sequel (looking at you, Aftershock), or maybe we just need to be a bit more like Satya, unrelenting for the truth in pursuit of justice.
Amid all the eyeballs and slick neo-noir grit, Bylines In Blood tells us that we have to strive for the truth lest we get lost in lies. The conclusive Bylines In Blood #4 hammers home the message of clawing for truth amidst lies with a final gallery of gripping art, and a tinge of hope to help get us there.
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