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Beware the Creeper #5

Posted: Thursday, September 4, 2003
By: Shawn Hill



"Act V"

Writer: Jason Hall
Artist: Cliff Chiang

Publisher: DC/Vertigo

Plot:
Last issue's tragic loss of life brings consequences for several major players, as we learn at last exactly what transpired on that night months ago when Judith was horribly attacked.

Comments:
It seems the horrible events of the cataclysmic last issue weren't cliffhangers at all; they were all too final and real, and their repercussions lead to a variety of surprising reversals for our major players in this final issue.

[WARNING: There's no way to discuss the impact of the series without several major SPOILERS, or at least very strong hints. This is a mystery tale with a detective narrator, and it all unravels here.]

There were many suspicions about where this story was heading, but I think Hall has managed to confound a few of them. Twins in film noir mysteries (and this almost was one, if set a few decades too early) always end up collapsing into each other for the cop protagonist and others. The mystery of Judith and Madeline doesn't however play out exactly as expected. For repressed, sensible Maddy to have been carrying on her sister's legacy for all these months does make a sort of sense, if you understand that the brittle surface relationship the two shared only obscured their deeper love and loyalty.

They were after all two orphans, smart young girls who lost their parents to the wars of their time and culture. This story was never afraid to be violent or morbid, and we're confronted with further grisly truths this issue after the murders and conflagration of the earlier "acts" in what turns out to have been Maddy's play all along. Hall sees that Mathieu gets what's coming to him, in eye for an eye vengeance, while the villainous Arbogasts are rather hastily shuffled off stage and all Paris turns against its former hero the Creeper.

The focus, this time, is really on what's been lost. Maddy's sister, Judith's life, the Surrealist's loyalty, the possibility of love and redemption. A fragile innocence between the wars, one that was already illusory and frayed. Ric Allain is left bereft and stoically knowledgeable. Like all good noir heroes, he missed his chance and he knows it. He ends the story perfectly primed for the existential years to come.

Though if this series will be remembered, it will likely be mostly for the compelling art by Chiang. His storytelling is impeccable, enabling him to parody the celebrities of the time while capturing the era in architecture and clothing. Two sequences stand out, bookends for the entire series, both wordless. In the first issue, we saw in sepia tones the horrific bombing of the church where the two sisters had gone with their parents to pray. This issue, in a similar sequence, we finally see what Maddy saw the night Judith was attacked by Mathieu Arbogast. Turns out we don't need words at all to understand.

It's the closest we come to seeing inside this enigmatic, reserved figure. Because, as it turns out, despite the title, she wasn't the main character after all, and neither was Judith.



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