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Strangehaven #15
By Gary Spencer Millidge
Published by Abiogenesis Press

Strangehaven features perhaps the best "What Has Gone Before" page in the industry, a succinct but comprehensive overview of the series and its characters. Given that it's one of the most complex and emotionally dense comics ever, this comes as a great aid in bridging the months-long gaps between issues. It's been a while since the last issue (scroll down to the second review), but as Sergeant Clark begins his investigation into the apparent murders of a pair of Strangehaven residents, I found the details coming back. The effect is quite like catching up with cherished friends, except, of course, they usually don't have such a sordid, violent tale to tell, and even if they did, it wouldn't be this fascinating.

Strangehaven is definitely a sordid place. It's filled with respectable people leading respectable lives, until the veil is drawn back by Millidge and we see the strange bedfellows, the mixed motives, the hidden agendas. The doctor's wife who had a tryst with her brother-in-law. She failed to get the desired effect from her husband, but his brother is a whole other story. His reaction to last issue's events is both hilarious and sad, a touching reminder that Millidge has created people here, not just ciphers to be manipulated in his narrative. I'd be willing to bet George's reaction came as a bit of a surprise even for his creator.

Such unique, vital characters are an important part of the issue and the series itself. As you can see on the cover, Millidge is balancing a lot of characters in the series, and all of them have individual wants, needs and desires -- not all of them immediately apparent, but all of them affecting the story and its twists and turns.

A great example is Sergeant Clark's "investigation" this issue -- it's masterfully laid out, so at first the reader is led to think that Clark actually is interested in solving the crimes under consideration, but slowly it dawns on us (and Clark) that what he's looking for isn't the truth, but the easiest route to putting this violent event in the past without disturbing the status quo of this odd little village. The climax of the scene is a disturbing but funny moment between Clark and his closest confidante, a bizarre little touch that demonstrates Millidge's mastery of his medium and his story.

Whether dealing with a sick domestic dinner scene or demonstrating the political realities of this inbred and sinister little village, Millidge never fails to make each scene memorable, a delight to read with no filler or padding apparent at all. Each moment seems a vital key in unlocking the mysteries of Strangehaven, no matter how silly, tragic or dark a given incident might be.

The story is moved along a great deal this issue, with Alex Hunter defiant but virtually helpless in the face of the unwanted overtures from the true ruling power of Strangehaven. It's hard to describe how thematically and narratively dense the book is on an issue-by-issue basis, but believe me, there's a great deal of story and character packed into the 25 or so story pages, plus as always Millidge shares his thoughts and news in some elegantly laid-out and informative text pieces at the start and finish of the issue. So make sure you set aside a good hour or so to absorb all the new Strangehaven story and accompanying notes to be found with this (and every) issue. It's time well spent for one of the best serialized comics currently being published. Grade: 5/5

-- Alan David Doane



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