Elle Peterssen is fairly lively for a girl in a coma. She was attacked on a subway platform, but can’t remember who did it or why. Now she’s in the hospital, surrounded by friends and family, and she can’t trust a single one of them. Jim McCann (Return of the Dapper Men) presents us with a twisting whodunit, where not even the victim has the answers. Everyone, we’re assured, is a suspect and no one is innocent.
Elle’s family is wealthy and dysfunctional, responding to the news of her attack with all the feeling of a stone. Her boyfriend, Dane, has a past that’s coming back to haunt him. And her best friend, Jo, seems to hear Elle in her dreams. Elle, meanwhile, is trapped in a place called The Garden. It’s a limbo for those who are unconscious in the hospital, waiting between life and death. A man named Bobby is her guide. Elle can do things in The Garden that no one else can: leap into unconscious bodies, draw up scenery from her memories or songs, and reach out to others. However, this doesn’t help her to remember who attacked her or what they wanted.
As the story unfolds, readers discover that the layers of the mystery go deeper and deeper. Everyone has an agenda and there are forces working to keep Elle’s attack a secret. The cast for this first volume is expansive and this can make the story feel unfocused. Outside of Elle’s close friends and family, there’s a doctor, Gina Geller, trying to unravel the mystery and another doctor blocking her access to Elle’s records; Dr. Geller’s wife, a detective who finds the Peterssen case crossing her desk; a psychiatrist who finds himself in The Garden after a staged car crash; his assistant; and a dark hooded figure present when things go terribly wrong. The list of suspects is lengthy; perhaps because each character is treated with suspicion, it’s difficult to get attached to them. I found myself more intrigued by The Garden and Elle’s interactions with Bobby than I was with the strained conversations between her friends and family. Unfortunately, this plays a small part in comparison to the twists and turns of the waking world. Hopefully Elle’s supernatural abilities will be further developed in the next volume.
Rodin Esquejo’s art is beautiful and plays with a variety of angles and points of view. This is nice because we’re often stuck in hospital rooms, making for rather dull surroundings. Music plays a key part in the story — and perhaps in the mystery? — so that it often affects the artwork. Ring tones tell us about characters’ relationships. Elle’s world transforms depending on the song floating through The Garden, giving us references to Blind Melon, Pink Floyd, and Andrew Lloyd Weber. It’s in The Garden that Esquejo’s artwork is at its best. His characters, while nice to look at, don’t register the emotions we read in their words. Everyone’s just a little too pretty. Late in the volume, Adrian Alphona draws a flashback scene that lasts roughly 15 pages. His artwork is grittier and more stylized, something that I found more appealing. There are lots of wonderful details, such as a carnival booth for BBQ + Chocolate Dipped Fish in Dane’s nightmare, or trailer trash contents that include a Brand X Peanut Brittle box with a girl crying “Ow!” or the Cats & Missiles calendar. I would like to own that calendar.
McCann doesn’t give us answers in this first volume — rather readers are left with more questions. In interviews, McCann has stated that there are clues throughout the story, both written and visual ones. While the extensive cast can be a bit boggling, fans of Agatha Christie-type mysteries will enjoy the suspects and the whodunit aspect. The story relies on acts of violence against Elle and others, but the art isn’t ever gory. There’s implied nudity, but no bits showing. Perhaps the most disturbing moment is when Dane dreams of his faceless mother abandoning him in an amusement park. Because of the plot and writing style, this may appeal more to adults than teens. The last few pages of the book are dedicated to variant cover art, with some playful takes on the story and a character gallery.