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‘The Private Eye’ offers surreal blend of mystery, science fiction

“Look, once upon a time, people stored all their deepest, darkest secrets in something called ‘the cloud,’ remember? Well, one day the cloud burst.”

Thus sets into motion the ominous tone for Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin, and Muntsa Vicente’s riveting digital and hardcover collection “The Private Eye.”

The year is 2076, and the world as we know it has been reduced to individuals wearing masks and costumes in public, not to fight crime, but to languish in the anonymity it affords them. In a surreal blend of mystery and science fiction, Vaughan skewers the things we take for granted in today’s technological utopia in the subtlest of ways.

P.I. is an unlicensed investigator, and fits the bill of your standard seedy mystery movie anti-hero. Not a hard-drinker as we’ve seen in past iterations of the character, but heartily partakes in Marijuhana, in a nifty little spin on the Marlboro box logo. Seemingly aloof, P.I.’s willing to take a case from a hard-luck, beautiful woman.

His first case centers around the woman Taj, wanting him to investigate her own self in hopes that her past trying on different “nyms” (think “pseudonym”) that will inhibit her from her future. As in most hard-boiled detective stories, our heroine is taken out of the picture, and the case for our protagonist gets sticky quick.

Unwilling to pick up the case (now that his meal ticket is dead) misplaced vengeance is brought upon him by an unlikely source, and the plot thickens. Taj was in over her head, and there are forces out there willing to go to cover up their evil intentions.

Epic car chases and world-shattering plots abound, but as always, Vaughan excels in worldbuilding and character development. There’s an abundance of ideas all flowing in different directions that flesh out the setting. P.I. is shallow enough to tell you that he doesn’t care, but deep enough to do something about it.

This 10-issue limited series first appeared on Vaughan’s site Panel Syndicate in March 2013 as a pay-what-you-want digital download, and is still available as such. Vaughan and Martin wrote a 28-page story in “The Walking Dead” universe in exchange for Image Comics to publish “The Private Eye.” It can be purchased in hardcover for $49.99.

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