And so, King City #7, the first "new" issue for owners of the TOKYOPop digest volume, came out last week and it's a weird one. It basically "answers" a few questions I don't think readers were asking--what's the deal with the cats and the Catmasters? Who's that chick with the ass?--and casually avoids the obvious pressing ones--what about Joe and ex-gf Anna? How'd that play out?--which is kinda perverse but ultimately, a really cool way to kick the series back into gear for the nerdz that've been waiting a couple years now for the story to keep going.
Thing is, this is King City and Brandon Graham, so you're in good hands. I don't anticipate any bullshit or typical monthly comic book avoidance in revealing how it went down with Anna. It'll probably bubble out of the middle of an upcoming issue as a rainy, sad-sack flashback--like their last kiss ("why didn't you try harder?") did in issue #4-- and just be totally devastating. Even without any info on what transpired between that Lovecraftian beast by ways of KAWS battle at the end of issue #6 and the beginning of #7, it's clear something happened. As a whole, the issue's darker.
It starts with the battle with the 4-Eyed Ninja and Joe's retrieval of the four brains. Joe does the cat/Catmaster thing and viciously splits the Ninja in half--cartoony innards revealed--and slices the top of The Girl with Four Brains' head and then, promptly tosses the bodies out the window. There's something shockingly efficient about it all and it contrasts with the thieving goofball Joe that we've seen before. It's unsettling but really cool and necessary: Joe's no longer a bit separate from the crumby, scummy, awesome city he left a few years back. Now, he's part of the criminal element in a very real way.
That Joe leaves the scene of his crime/theft to meet up with Pete, still reeling from giving up that weird mermaid chick, adds a weird dimension to Joe's all-business attitude and Pete's, after-the-fact concern. Graham's setting up some really cool character arcs, where Joe, Pete, and presumably others, mature or learn that the world's hard/weird/kinda fucked, but do it via mermaid girls handed over to some creeps and the death of four-brained chick and four-eyed ninja.
Strangely (and quite brilliantly too), Graham moves us closer to Joe and his emotions--it didn't hurt the series, but Joe could feel a bit 2-D compared to the others in early issues--when Joe seems his most distant. He's no longer a symbol with some problems and a confused past tacked-on, he's a real person and he sometimes does shitty stuff. The whole, just-starting sub-plot with Joe and Beebay (the mystery girl/ass girl) and their sexual relationship reveals a side of Joe we hadn't considered: He's a regular-ass dude.
Before this point, Joe's been a guy still totally in-love with his ex, Anna. He's probably still that guy, but Graham never allowed readers to see around the corner of his longing--how it was wrong or selfish or well, anything but longing--and you're almost disappointed in Joe for getting with Beebay because it's real. You also totally understand why he did. Just look at this panel:
Point is, Joe is doing something sketchy and dumb--and potentially dangerous--and we know he knows better. Worse--Joe knows he knows better. His interior monologue, floating around a medium close-up of Joe's confused face--love how he's looking to the left, too embarrassed by his actions to look the reader in the face--reveals a thinking, complex side of the character we've not previously seen: "Sometimes I feel I'm her employee that she pays in sex. That's bad. Makes me feel like I've got strings on my wrists..."And that's all we get from this issue. None of this seems even remotely close to figuring itself out, and in that sense, we're very much in it; too wrapped up in drama and emotions to make sense of it, just like Joe.
At the same time, it's perhaps the best "single issue" (or group of chapters) Graham's done yet. Though it's full of stuff that for the time being, is not quite tied together, #7 remains a deeply satisfying read. It's full of the usual little rewards and jokes you get in Graham's work, and look, I didn't count or anything, but it may actually have more of those, but it also has a strange sense of unease and "stuff's fucked" feeling to it. As I said, it's darker, more violent, more sexual, than previous issues. That final image, Joe placing mystery girl Beebay's card in his pocket is ambiguous, but something's urgent about it, some weird something or other's passed between them and we'll have to wait to see how it plays out. There'll be cute cats and puns and big-asses too though, don't worry.