Where the Body Was is the latest offering from the legendary duo of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. It is a single volume story that features a lot of the hallmarks of their work. There is a Vietnam vet who is struggling with his mental health. It is summer in the 1980s. A cop who operates outside of the rules. A young woman who is troubled. And a male character feels compelled to save her even if it is a self-serving move.
This book does also contain a convention I haven’t seen from them where every character tells a portion of this story directly to the reader. This breaking of the fourth-wall adds an interesting layer to the story because at times characters are aware that others are telling their version of events and will comment on it. In the hands of a lesser author it might feel contrived, but here it really colors in the character dynamics and the weight of the information we are receiving.
The book opens on a map of the neighborhood, Pelican Road, in 1984. All the houses are labeled and a marker for where the titular “body” was found helps orient us. There is a photo card page with the nine most important characters as they looked then. There is some stage-setting where we learn the history of the first house built on the block and we are brought up today with the current occupants, “a revolving collection of lowlifes.” Kids like Tommy and Karina, young punks who drink, make noise and do drugs are now the collective irritation of the neighbors. Mrs. Wilson of the neighborhood watch speaks directly to us explaining how everything changed the day the cop intervened. It was Palmer, who lived at the end of the street, and he was the sort of “hard ass” cop she had been hoping for. He scared off one of the worst of them and this sets the story in motion as these kids and Palmer will be driving the rest of the narrative.
Palmer meets Toni Melville, the married woman on the block who seduces him and begins having an affair. She’s bored and lonely where Palmer is strong and exciting. He was her secret and that was as thrilling as his brutal nature. In her direct address she says she knows it was wrong, but her relationship with her husband had been dead for years at this point and she wasn’t sure why they were still together. Dr. Ted Melville, a psychiatrist, features in several characters’ lives as we’ll learn.
At this point we’re introduced to 11 year old Lila who has a superhero costume and roller skates that she wears to patrol the neighborhood. She has a strong moral compass and is determined to keep her neighborhood safe. Through her we will meet the private eye that is searching for Karina. She also introduces Ranko, the homeless Vietnam veteran who lives in the woods behind the 7-11. These are the characters whose lives get so tangled up thanks to a lie, lust, and infatuation that when the private investigator is found dead in their neighborhood, no one’s life is ever the same again. They are telling us the story decades later and we’re still seeing the fallout from this fateful summer.
The storytelling convention employed here makes the story more accessible to readers who may be newer to comics. It was easy to follow the multiple points of view and makes for a much richer reading experience. The art of Sean Phillips once again keeps the story grounded with heavy lines and a gritty texture. The 1980’s aren’t represented with wild, stereotypical items or neon colors, but by the lack of technology, the clothing and the cars. The colors from Jacob Phillips are muted and the pop of brighter panels really helps showcase the different lives these people live in the day versus the night when their worst selves step forward.
Much of Brubaker and Phillips recent work is rated Mature and this is no exception. I would point to the affair Palmer and Toni have as the culprit because there is more nudity and sex in this book than other work from this team. While it’s in service to the story, it does age this one up dramatically. There is language and drug use in here as well, but neither stick out quite so aggressively. With that said, it was a compelling mystery and there were several twists that paid off early subtle touches in a very satisfying way. This will fit in well alongside other work by this team, while also feeling distinct, especially next to their other most recent title Night Fever. Both titles are a nice departure from books like the Reckless series, while not alienating fans of their style and tone.
Where the Body Was
By Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips
Publisher Age Rating: Mature
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)