By Patrick Larose
There’s a particular type of dissonance between being a consumer and a critic.
As a consumer, there’s really only ever one question—is the product any good?
The answer should be reached easily. Does the art look good? Is the dialog natural? The story compelling? They’re yes or no questions but as a critic, there’s this feeling of responsibility to examine why something is good.
This is where reviewing single issue comics kinda sucks. You’re not examining a full artistic product. You’re not talking about a cohesive story—instead, you're reviewing a product by what amounts to the individual chapters of a book, a single scene in a movie or a level in a video game. We don’t get to talk about the intent of a storyline or how well a character arc is orchestrated. Instead, we have what happens at this particular point of the story in this month.
But we have to because that’s how it's sold and people need to know whether something’s actually worth buying month-to-month. Sure it’s a broken game but, hey, it’s the only one is town.
So if you’ve been keeping up with Hadrian’s Wall or Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye, it’s safe to say that they’re both overwhelming still worth keeping up with.
Hadrian’s Wall is still beautiful, water color-esque visuals wrapped around a dark murder mystery in space. Cave Carson is still a bright and poppy funeral for space-age era fiction. They’re both just, unfortunately, fulfilling a certain structural role in their stories.
They’re the connective tissue pacing us between the important story beats while building outward the narrative over the characters. In Hadrian’s Wall, we’re following the beats of a murder mystery. Everyone’s been interviewed and our detective has to poke and prod the clues until their flaws start to unravel. Issue #3 plays a specific role is establishing the tension of the mystery, moving it forward while slowing down the pace and giving us the chance to ask our own questions. This needs to be here but at the same time, the issue is performing a role rather than expanding the story’s themes.
Meanwhile, Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #2 is an extended action sequence. This issue drives the stakes of the conspiracy the first issue ended on. Cave and his daughter have to be ripped from their comfort zones and thrust into a place where all they have is each other. The visuals are still surreal but the movements feel like the second act of a Jason Bourne movie. There are car chases, gun fights, and surprise kidnappings. The surreal and wavering realities are still here but now they’re prompting us to ask questions around the conspiracy underneath our feet.
Both comics are doing interesting things too. Hadrian’s Wall has our detective spiral downward by his pain pill withdrawal, the painterly artwork summoning nightmare visions as his body try to work out everything. There’s an interesting plot twist at the end and above all the station crewmen are finally starting to see his side—that this really was a murder.
Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye is still weird and a visual trip. Characters are developed smartly in the sidelines as we see Cave Carson’s daughter try to drag her boyfriend to see a midnight movie from the 1950s—some black and white creature feature that her boyfriend derides as something they could watch at home on Youtube. What's happening here is her longing for the era of weird and optimistic science fiction her family came from. There’s this overwhelming feeling throughout the issue that something was taken from the Carson family—something they desperately need to reclaim from the present.
These are quick and engaging reads but they never made me stop and think about what was happening. Instead, they were aimed at fulfilling the beats in the story that needed to happen—not predictable but formulaic.
If I were reading either series as a trade paperback, I doubt I would even notice. These issues aren’t the ones there to trip us up, to reexamine the story and figure what’s really going on here thematically. They’re the workman behind the scenes to tell the stories we remember and it’s unfortunate when the issue structure of the industry forces these parts to stick out like this.
If you’re already engaged—stay engaged. The industry needs you stay engaged and it needs you keep buying these single issues even if they’re middle chapters in a greater story. It may be a broken game but, still, it’s the only one in town.