Reading “Strings – Part 1 of 4”

I think I spent the time in between each issue of the second arc of Life is Strange anticipating major Chloe/Rachel drama because it just seemed so obvious to me that at some point they were going to have to deal with the possibility of a long distance relationship and the total availability of Max.  All that stuff ultimately took a major backseat to the more immediate plot revolving around Tristan’s introduction to the book, which makes sense given the need to expand the cast a little bit beyond our three heroines.  I mean, I could read stories about the friendliest of love triangles each month with no problem, but I suppose there does have to be something else going on in between the feels dumps of long chats about relationships.

It’s really fun when covers play with familiar iconography and graft it onto character concepts. (Cover by Claudia Leonardi; Image credit: Comic Vine)

The standard cover of this issue wraps around the book in two parts with a playing card motif.  On the front we have Max, Chloe, and Rachel looking like they always belong in a deck of cards (I know this is not a novel visual concept, but it still delights me when I see it) with one face down card set beneath them.  On the back it’s revealed that that card is Tristan, throwing a bit of chaos into the group’s relatively well-ordered lives.  It’s a nice thematic nod to the way that Tristan’s introduction in the previous arc has precipitated a major upheaval in the status quo of Max’s life.  Last issue closed with her promising to tell Chloe and Rachel everything because of what had happened since she’d met Tristan, and given the utterly bonkers nature of Max’s backstory (“I come from a different timeline where everyone you know and love is dead except me, and also there were a lot of murders and other dark stuff that happened”) the usual associations with playing cards like fragility, uncertainty, and the whims of fate are totally apropos.  For the purposes of this issue itself, Tristan’s relatively minor; he’s there, but it’s also very clear he would rather not be because there’s a lot of baggage that Max needs to unpack, and it’s not the most comfortable thing for someone she’s just met to witness along with her close friends.

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This is the whole issue in one wordless panel. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi)

The entire first half of the book is just these four main characters sitting in their apartment unpacking everything that’s happened with Max.  It’s like an extended recap of the entire Life is Strange series, but with added feels.  Rachel is understandably upset by the thought that there’s a reality where she and Max never met because she was murdered and also by the realization that Max and Chloe totally got together in the aftermath of that trauma.  Chloe seems to process everything much more efficiently, which I guess makes sense given the fact that she’s the focal point of all Max’s positive feelings.  It’s honestly amazing how much better adjusted this Chloe is than any of the other ones we’ve seen; as soon as she groks that Max left a different Chloe behind, she’s down with the idea that Max needs to try to leave.  This Chloe’s doing okay; the other one lost everything.  Max seems mostly relieved that she’s finally shared this massive secret she’s been sitting on for two years, and Tristan would just like to get away from all the awkwardness of this very complicated living situation.  Given his powers, this is so on brand for Tristan it hurts.

Because the first half of the book is a massive feelings and data dump, the second half packs in a fair bit of set up for this story arc.  Rachel flirts with Dex, the High Seas’ keyboardist (who maybe is signalling that he’s trans or just that he needed a cooler name for his musician persona) and it comes out that the band is touring the East Coast next, with their first stop being an arts festival that is also where Rachel will be going for her acting gig.  Chloe announces that she’s going to travel with Rachel, and we can all see that this is rapidly going to turn either into a road trip story or the majority of the cast is getting sidelined so that we can focus more on Max and Tristan’s misadventures with superpowers.  I obviously am hoping very much for the former, which is almost a guarantee that it will be the latter.

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Rachel is having a bad day. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi)

Random Bits

  • The background designs on the cover are Tristan’s shirt design and the spiral icon that Max presumably drew on the note board in the kitchen (itself a callback to the original game’s rewind visuals).
  • Max recognizing the sculpture as a representation of the Arcadia Bay storm continues to tease that there’s something weird going on with Chloe, who we’ll remember has been getting unwitting flashes of things from Max’s other reality.
  • Tristan apparently thinks he could use his powers to step through dimensions, which, yeah, okay.
  • Rachel is deep in her feelings, and I want that explored so much more.
  • Just give me a High Seas spinoff already.  The more I see of this band, the more I want stories centered on them.

Reading “Waves – Part 4 of 4”

I read this issue for the first time probably about a month ago (definitely before the move), but I haven’t revisited until this past week when I was thinking that I really needed to try to get back onto a regular blogging schedule (we see how well that’s working out).  I recall making a vague prediction at the end of part three of this arc that Tristan would serve as a springboard for Max to jump back into the time stream and leave these particular versions of Chloe and Rachel to enjoy what happiness they have together while she figures out where she actually belongs.  Low key super-powered problem solver was always a fun mode to see Max operating in back in the original game, even if we understood that all her little correctives were probably contributing to the massive storm careening towards Arcadia Bay.

I definitely thought when I saw this cover that Max was preparing to do another quantum leap. Chloe deserves to be happy with Rachel, but Max also deserves to be happy with Chloe, after all. Also, Tristan’s too fun to leave in a stable timeline with supportive friends. (Cover by Claudia Leonardi)

Despite being aware of that likely cost to adjusting the timeline, it’s incredibly satisfying to see her do a rewind, especially in order to save Tristan’s life.  Max has been keeping a lid on her powers for over two years (three if we count the year she spent in the timeline where Arcadia Bay was destroyed), and in all that time the major question that’s been brewing is what circumstances would push her to rewind time again.  The central problem of the first arc was so focused on her powers manifesting in a new, uncontrolled way, and her inner arc in this story has been about feeling she needs to suppress an important part of herself to be accepted by her friends, that it feels good to see her reclaim this thing that belongs to her.  Yeah, there will probably be consequences, but at some point the universe needs to either make it apparent how Max’s rewinding reverberates or she needs to accept that there are always going to be unforeseen consequences of her actions and she can’t let them paralyze her decision making.  Whatever the fallout of saving Tristan’s life may be, we should keep in mind that this is still a Max who originally decided that saving a friend’s life was more important than being weighted down by an aftermath that may or may not have been her doing.

Compare all of these beats in Max’s story with where Tristan’s arc goes.  His backstory with Atsuhiko is an inverse of Max and Chloe’s reunion in the Blackwell Academy bathroom.  Tristan’s powers manifested at a moment of crisis that precipitated his best friend’s death.  The fault lies squarely with the drug dealer who shot Atsuhiko, but Tristan’s trauma leaves him directly correlating his disappearing power with Atsuhiko dying.  His decision to go to Chloe and Rachel for help, and then to use his powers to help save Max in return, brings things full circle as he finds that he’s able to help people instead of just running away from what he fears.

A slightly smaller, but still interesting development in this issue is Rachel Amber’s realization of how close she still is to the shallow, image-focused LA life that her work friends all still inhabit.  The drug overdose with her friend Callie serves as a reality check for her, especially after she notices the rest of the party goers instinctively using the incident as an opportunity for some publicity and cheap drama on their respective media feeds.  The epiphany feels good as Rachel has always been a character who seemed just on the verge of getting caught up in the image-driven life, but it feels even better when she takes this impulse and channels it towards even greater good when she uses a livestream direct to her social media followers as a way to force the drug dealers to back down from threatening Max and Tristan.  It’s a somewhat surreal inversion of the usually sinister bent associated with the constant self-surveillance that social media often represents, but it fits perfectly with who Rachel is at her best.

Compared with the rest of the story’s main cast, Chloe doesn’t strike me as having completed much of a major arc at this point.  I suspect, given that Max doesn’t actually jump to a new timeline at the end of this issue and elements of the old timeline have slowly been bleeding into Chloe’s consciousness, that Vieceli is building towards something larger for Chloe that will likely culminate with the next arc of the series.  I’ve wondered on and off how long this comic series could go on, and just like with the end of the first story arc I was pleasantly surprised to see that another was being planned.  I’m enjoying seeing more adventures with Max and Chloe, so I hope that it remains an ongoing for a while yet, although I’m pretty sure I’ll be satisfied if it ends at twelve issues so long as Max finds herself in a timeline where she can be with Chloe (Vieceli continues to give off strong Chloe/Max shipping vibes, so I hold out hope that’s her end game).

In the meantime though, we get to look forward to a little more time spent with relatively happy Chloe and Rachel in LA, which means that Max needs to do some work on her relationships.  The big development of the issue in terms of relationships is Max’s decision to explain everything to these versions of Rachel and Chloe.  It’s a big step given how scared Max has been about letting anyone know about her powers, and I’m curious to see the fallout.  It can’t be easy to have to explain to your best friends that you originate from a timeline where one of them was violently murdered and the other rebounded from that trauma into a romantic relationship that you never quite felt lived up to what it replaced.  It has to mess with a person’s head.

Reading “Waves – Part 3 of 4”

With the move and stuff, I’ve been a little behind schedule with read-throughs and such, so an entire month passed before I realized that issue #8 for Life is Strange was coming out and I had yet to discuss issue#7.  Time flies when you’re not working and traveling and getting ready to move house and feeding off the residual energy of doing hot takes on a weekly comics series that is connected with an actual active online community.  The slower, more deliberate pacing of the Life is Strange comic can be easy to forget about in all of that excitement, but it continues to be such a solid series.  In the glut of comics reading I’ve done over the summer (I’ve read the equivalent of about 55 trades since the end of June), I’ve had ample opportunity to consider what sort of things appeal to my tastes specifically, and the commonalities I see among all the comics that feel really resonant are the ones where characters who are younger than me are trying to figure general life stuff out.  It’s probably a narrative motif that appeals to me because of my day job which is… to help people younger than me along as they figure general life stuff out.  Anyway, it’s good to stop and take a breather with a book that’s not full of heady science fiction tropes and punching (so. much. punching.) on occasion.

“So, are you like a reverse vampire?” (Cover by Claudia Leonardi; Image credit: Comics Vine)

The cover for issue #7 nods towards the ongoing subplot-come-main plot of the kid who can make people stop noticing him.  We see Max, doing some typical symbolic self reflection next to Emo Kid (we learn in this issue his name is Tristan) who is invisible in the real world but visible in the mirror.  The meaning is pretty apparent; Tristan is metaphorically adrift, and Max, who has spent two years desperately trying to keep herself anchored to this timeline, is his best shot at getting a hold on something solid.  Their kindred spirits of a sort, although Tristan’s powers haven’t allowed him a bunch of do-overs for his mistakes the way that Max’s have, and Tristan is still reeling from the death of his own best friend.  Balancing those needs against the relationship drama that’s been brewing among Max, Chloe, and Rachel is the major source of tension for this issue.

Speaking of Tristan’s mistakes, the issue opens with a flashback of the incident that led to Tristan’s current predicament.  During a drug deal that went bad because he and his friend Atsuhiko didn’t have enough money to pay for what they were trying to buy, Tristan’s powers activate after everyone panics at the sound of approaching police sirens.  We’ve seen before that the general effect of his powers is to make people forget that he’s present at all, and if something is happening that can be causally linked to him, they’ll typically redirect the blame to someone else.  It’s a fun variation on invisibility that feels like a fantastical version of psychological disassociation, especially in the context of how Tristan describes the way he activates his powers.  Unfortunately in this case, the sudden manifestation of Tristan’s powers leads Atsuhiko to assume his friend has abandoned him, and in desperation he tries to steal the drugs from the dealers that they couldn’t pay.  Atsuhiko is shot and killed while believing that his best friend abandoned him.  It’s like Max’s worst fears about Chloe’s own death in the Blackwell Academy bathroom amplified and abbreviated.

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“I can see the world, but I’m not a part of it.” (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo, letters by Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt)

There’s something really fascinating with the way that Max and Tristan’s powers directly parallel their coping strategies for trauma.  I suppose it’s a pretty common trope of superhero stories that powers act as stand-ins for more internal character patterns, but the totally unassuming way that they engage in this universe feels like an especially polished take.  These are characters who are just trying to cope in quiet ways that don’t attract attention to themselves; it’s been obvious since the start of this arc that Max is holding in a lot of complicated feelings because she’s both afraid of rejection and unsure she would be understood by her friends, which nicely mirrors her power to just quietly do a thing over until she’s satisfied with the outcome.  Tristan seems to be in a more fragile place with his own trauma, and his coping strategy is complete disengagement.  That Tristan baring his soul at the start of this issue precipitates the first time in LA that Max opens up to someone about her own history underscores the dynamic between these two as potential helpers for one another.  I’m still fully anticipating that Max is on her way somewhere else once this arc’s done, and at this point there’s a slim possibility that Tristan might end up being her accompaniment.

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As someone who spent the summer getting some therapy, I now feel qualified to say that everyone would benefit from therapy. That’s basically what Max is saying she needs, although she doesn’t quite have the language to express it in a way that doesn’t hurt Chloe’s feelings. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo, letters by Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt)

Of course, as much as I’m glad to see that Max is talking to someone, when she gets a chance to open up with Chloe again, she royally botches it.  It’s a bittersweet moment given the brief feint towards Max just getting her junk out in the open, but then Chloe takes Max’s observation about how it’s sometimes harder to be open with people you care about than with strangers poorly, and everything is left an unresolved mess.  There’s an attempt to make things right later at a networking party that Rachel has brought Chloe and Max along to, but it gets interrupted with the issue cliffhanger where one of Rachel’s friends has a bad reaction to some drugs, forcing Max to go outside to call 911 where she witnesses the drug dealers from Tristan’s flashback pointing a gun at someone we assume is Tristan just before they pull the trigger.

My predictions for how the next issue is likely to begin at least revolve around Max finding herself forced to decide whether to use her powers to save Tristan from being shot, which will carry the risk of pulling her away from this timeline with things unresolved with Chloe.  It’s a good bit of tension given how this issue has set up a classic Life is Strange bad dilemma between prioritizing Chloe and protecting someone else that has the potential to be a new, good friend for Max.  We’ll see where it goes.

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We were so close to working this out… (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo, letters by Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt)

Reading “Waves – Part 2 of 4”

It’s been a while since I dove back in with Chloe, Max, and Rachel, so let’s take a look at Life is Strange #6.  To refresh, we’re in the middle of a story about our three heroines struggling to get by in Los Angeles a couple years after Max landed in a timeline where Chloe and Rachel are both alive and the storm never hit Arcadia Bay.  The first issue of the arc established the new status quo, with the trio living in a cheap apartment where Max is working as a freelance graphic designer; Chloe has a steady job as an auto mechanic and a budding career as an artist; and Rachel is doing all the side hustles with auditions, Youtube videos, and a series of regular jobs waiting tables.  Chloe and Rachel have both just gotten their first breaks, and they’re full of feelings because Rachel’s job would take her to the east coast for six months and Chloe is worried Rachel will resent her for having some success while she’s still struggling.  Max is white knuckling through not using her powers anymore for fear of losing a pretty good thing despite her obvious sadness that Chloe isn’t available.

Chloe’s t-shirts continue to be pretty sweet though. (Cover by Claudia Leonardi)

The cover for this issue features Max, Chloe, and Rachel hanging out and looking cool in sunny LA (you know it’s LA because there are palm trees behind them).  It’s a lovely picture of them, but it lacks the symbolic imagery that we’ve seen on most of the other covers so far.  The only thing of note is that Rachel is facing away from Chloe and Max, but there’s very little in the issue to suggest any sort of significance to the composition.  The Chloe/Rachel drama that I was anticipating at the end of the last issue hasn’t yet materialized; they’re mostly pretty in sync here, primarily because they’re worried about Max, who is growing ever more worried about the secrets she’s been keeping from her best friends for two years.

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Rachel gives Max some encouraging words. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo, letters by Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt)

This is the kind of issue in series that I tend to really enjoy; conversations about relationships and deep feelings always feel so much meatier than a bunch of cool actiony bits; that Vieceli consistently hits those beats instead of being like, “Hey, Max can do some cool stuff with her time hopping!” makes me appreciate this series all the more as it carries on.  The first character whose deep feelings get discussed explicitly is Chloe, and, because drama is best when it’s filtered through the prisms of other characters perceptions, the Chloe exploration happens via a conversation between Max and Rachel.  While leaving a dentist’s office where Rachel has just gotten her teeth cleaned and polished (for publicity reasons; this is still LA), the two of them discuss Chloe as the core connective tissue of their relationship.  Max sees herself as the source of Chloe’s anxiety about Rachel’s job offer; though Rachel doesn’t speak explicitly about it, she likely considers all the other ways Chloe has been abandoned in her life when she tells Max to stop being so hard on herself.  They’re both right in their ways, but they also both make assumptions about Chloe that have the potential to create some interesting tensions later.  Chloe definitely still has some of those anxieties, but the way she speaks with Max later in the issue, asking her not to shut herself off, demonstrates that this Chloe is far more emotionally mature than the one that Max is thinking of.

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Max is having a rough couple years. She should get some therapy. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo, letters by Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt)

Contrasting with the fixed ideas of Chloe that Rachel and Max are grappling with, we get a lot of self reflection from these two characters about themselves and the ways that they’ve changed.  Rachel is very open about the possibility that she would have become a shallow, image focused person after trying to make it in LA for so long without Chloe’s help.  That jives with the way she was characterized in Before the Storm; Rachel Amber has always been very adept at making herself blend in with whomever she’s around, and too much chameleoning without someone like Chloe to act as her anchor could easily have diffused her sense of self in some unhealthy ways.  Max, meanwhile, continues to reflect on how she’s been so steadfast in her determination not to use her powers anymore; she wants to be the kind of friend who is dependable, although her obsession on this one thing has made her overcompensate in ways that continue to shut her off from Chloe especially.  The core tension for her at this point is figuring out whether she even can tell Chloe and Rachel about her powers without alienating them (the evidence in this issue suggests that she’s probably safe confiding in them, although her own misgivings are certainly relatable).

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To contrast with Max’s personal crisis, Chloe shines through as a remarkably stable and caring friend here. All things considered, this feels like Chloe at her best, even as she’s worried about not knowing Max anymore. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo, letters by Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt)

While Max is deep in her feelings and Rachel does some self-reflection, Chloe’s core action through this issue is a meditation on the ways that things are different from how they used to be.  Max’s refusal to talk about her powers has produced a stark asymmetry between how Chloe remembers her and how she is now.  Part of the asymmetry in perception is because this Max is literally not the one that this Chloe grew up with, but on a more real level, it’s because Max has changed and hasn’t explained to Chloe what the changes actually are.  The dissonance between our memories of a person and the person before us can be extremely uncomfortable if it’s not sufficiently explained, and Max definitely has avoided doing that work with Chloe.

Setting aside character beats, it’s also worth noting the subplot with the Emo Kid who Max has noticed around town.  He apparently has the power to make people forget him, which he uses to do petty thefts.  Max, likely because of her own powers, is mostly immune to his tricks, and she’s curious to find out more about him because she hasn’t encountered anyone else with powers before.  This goal ties in with the aimlessness that Max has felt as she’s made herself stay in this timeline; perhaps Emo Kid’s appearance is connected with the reason she’s been around for so long.  Of course, discussing the reason Max has been in a given timeline implies that she’ll either need or want to move on once things are resolved.  This timeline’s Chloe is unconsciously having flashes of things that are remnants of other timelines, and at this point I’m expecting that Max will be whisked off to a different set of circumstances once the arc ends, ideally after we get confirmation that the Chloe and Rachel of LA are going to be fine and continue to be happy together.

Reading “Waves – Part 1 of 4”

The last time we checked in with Max, she had hopped timelines from one where she was supposed to be dead to a new one where Chloe and Rachel Amber are alive and well in Los Angeles just like they had always planned.  It was a good place to leave off the series if that were your inclination; our heroine has found a stable place with the promise of some semblance of happiness.  It’s also an ideal place to carry on the story considering how much hay can be made of Max being stuck in a world where her best friend (with whom she’s in love) is happy with someone else.  Rachel Amber was the specter of the original game’s story, always a part of the atmosphere surrounding Chloe and Max.  Now she’s a physical presence, the person whom Chloe romantically loved first, and perhaps most.  Even after setting aside the relatively puerile love triangle model where Max and Rachel might vie for Chloe as rivals, there’s a lot of good potential for strong feels without pitting these characters who should naturally like each other in direct competition.

Max is on her own this time. (Cover by Veronica Fish; Image credit: Comic Vine)

The issue’s cover plays to the deeper issues that Max is working through under this new status quo.  Focusing on Max’s face, we see her in the moment just after she’s taken a photograph.  Slipping out of her instant camera is the snapshot, showing a farewell sign as she leaves Oregon behind.  Above her head are blue butterflies, the series’s ubiquitous symbol for the unexpected consequences of Max using her powers.  This new arc flashes forward from 2014 to 2016, and we learn quickly that Max has decided that she’s not going to use her powers anymore.  She’s in a stable timeline, and she needs to make the best of the situation.  Her return to Arcadia Bay isn’t even history anymore; she’s literally cut off from her home, living (relatively) abroad with the ever present reminder of Chloe and Rachel to keep her from using her powers to try to make adjustments.

The butterfly tattoo on Max’s wrist is a lovely touch. She understands it as a symbol of the unintended consequences that pop up when she uses her powers; we as readers recognize it also as emblematic of the Chloe that loved her. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo, letters by Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt)

The time skip serves to get us over the undoubtedly awkward transition from Max reintroducing herself to this Chloe, who hasn’t seen Max since her family moved to Seattle, to Max becoming an integral part of Chloe and Rachel’s life.  The point of this story appears to be Max working to maintain a hard won equilibrium; she seems to be getting by as a freelance photographer and graphic designer when we catch up with her, and over the course of the issue it becomes clear that she’s rebuilt the friendship that she and Chloe had as children.  Max has a good thing going, and all it cost her is being constantly reminded that there are alternatives in her grasp where she and Chloe could be together.  Of course, our Max is a ridiculously responsible person, and at every turn she reminds herself that there are no purely good outcomes.  There’s no way she’s going to be the one who makes the waves here.  Instead, it’s clearly going to be about Rachel and Chloe going through a rough patch in their relationship.  Both have steady jobs in addition to side hustles with various levels of success (Chloe is an auto mechanic, but she really wants to make abstract art out of scrap metal, which feels like a very Chloe development in this timeline; Rachel is struggling to land an acting gig while she builds a Youtube channel about makeup tips and holds down a job as a waitress).  Their lives are extremely humble, and likely more than a little precarious given the milieu that anyone who lived through 2016 as an adult would understand.

In case you were wondering, yes, Max is still very much in love with Chloe. She’s really good at not making it anyone else’s problem though. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo)

While the economic factors are certainly present and may become more prominent in subsequent issues, the core tension between Rachel and Chloe here is more centered on their differing attitudes towards their own ambitions.  Both are taking their first steps towards realizing their creative dreams, but they have polar opposite attitudes in how they handle these changes.  Rachel has gotten her first acting job with a touring company doing some Shakespeare (nods to Before the Storm abound with Rachel, which is appropriate because that was a fantastic prequel series in its own right as long as you ignore the post-credits coda of the last episode), and she’s already accepted it.  The problem is that it’s a tour on the East Coast that’s going to last for six months.  Rachel’s hunger for a chance at doing what she loves is totally understandable, but her decision to accept the job before she even discusses it with Chloe feels like a warning of trouble to come.

Enthusiastic Chloe is best Chloe. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo, letters by Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt)

Contrasting with Rachel’s unilateral decision-making is the news that Chloe has made her first sale of an art piece.  She’s thrilled, but she also worries about telling Rachel because it’s legitimately hard to see others being successful when you aren’t.  The contrast in impact versus thoughtfulness between Chloe and Rachel’s respective bits of news is staggering.  On one hand you have Chloe having a small personal success that will bring in money, benefiting the household, and not negatively disrupt anyone’s lives; she agonizes over sharing this positive news because it might make Rachel feel like a failure in her own projects.  On the other hand, Rachel accepts a job that will require her to travel across the country for half a year and leave her girlfriend behind.  It’s undeniably an opportunity that she should pursue, but her insecurity about telling Chloe until it’s already a done deal is going to rock the boat.

Max, you are a good friend. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo, letters by Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt)

Standing back from this buildup of potential dramatic energy is Max, who is doing her absolute best at being the supportive friend.  She gives Chloe solid advice about trusting that Rachel will be happy for her, which likely plays into Chloe’s own decision to not press the issue with Rachel’s job.  It’s a difficult emotional position for Max to be in; we know intimately that Max’s memories are full of moments that she shared with a different Chloe, and there’s no way she can push those away.  Still, she makes the selfless choice and advises her friend to put more trust into her relationship with Rachel.  The cost of this is clear when Max has to excuse herself after Chloe and Rachel resolve to work out the thing with the job; every choice has consequences, and Max isn’t going to make a choice that benefits herself knowing that it could hurt someone she cares about.  I’m sure this will all be put to the test once Rachel’s on tour and Max and Chloe find themselves living alone together, leaning even more on each other emotionally.  It’s going to be great.  Also, probably terrible.

Reading “Dust – Part 4 of 4”

As Rachael has been playing through the Dragon Age series, she’s developed a guiding ethos for all of her decisions that goes something like this: When Alistair (her favorite character from Dragon Age: Origins) is present, she will always choose what she thinks Alistair would most want because no one else in the game world seems to be that concerned with his needs or desires.  Alistair is a figure within Dragon Age lore who exists primarily to be the plot’s whipping boy; several major decision points in Origins revolve around making a choice that’s going to either be very bad for a lot of people or lead to Alistair personally suffering in some way.  It takes a lot of work to set up a story where Alistair both gets a happy ending and nothing too tragic happens to anyone else.  I feel like Chloe Price fits a similar mold in the Life is Strange universe.

On the one hand, Max and Chloe are the best together. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo)

Unfortunately for Chloe, the original game only presents so many potential variables in the story, and consequently achieving a “happy” ending for her isn’t possible without dooming a lot of people (even then, there’s no circumventing Rachel Amber’s murder or Chloe’s dad’s death or any number of other smaller traumas).  The choices available to the player are much more constrained by the nature of the story; Alistair’s caught up in epic fate-of-the-world heroics while Chloe is just a teenage girl trying to survive in a hometown that hasn’t felt like a home for her in a long time, but the basic idea is still present in both narratives.

Anyway, the point of all this is that what Chloe wants figures in pretty centrally to the conclusion of this story, which is really sweet and also likely to cause Max a fair bit of grief as well.

Aww, Max. (Cover by Claudia Leonardi & Andrea Izzo; Image credit: Comic Vine)

The cover of this issue highlights the motif of Max’s grief pretty well with a portrait of Max looking pensively to the side.  A crack runs down the middle, splitting between Chloe on one side and the flurry of butterflies that have served as the visual motif for Max’s trips into the multiverse on the other.  The composition telegraphs pretty strongly that Max will be faced with a decision that probably involves leaving Chloe behind; it’s not my favorite resolution (I let a whole town of people die so Max and Chloe could be together after all).  Past issues have made it increasingly clear that whatever is going on with Max’s powers is becoming increasingly unstable, and nosebleeds simply aren’t a sign of good physical health in these sorts of situations.

What finally gets explained in this issue (probably with a bit too little preparation) is that Max has been flickering through timelines because she’s somehow become displaced from her own timeline.  Every time she jumps streams, it’s because she’s being pulled between two or more realities, none of which are actually supposed to be hers.  The implications of this become almost immediately apparent to Max; she can’t stay in her current timeline with Chloe, and she’s not entirely sure where she really belongs.

Since that revelation happens early in the issue, much of the story is about Max coming to terms with what she has to do and sorting out her relationship with Chloe.  The structure of the issue is relatively light on action, but it’s heavily consequential for dealing with a lot of unresolved issues relating to Max and Chloe’s relationship.  They finally discuss Rachel Amber and what she meant to Chloe, which is viscerally satisfying; anyone who paid even mild attention to the original game could tell that Chloe and Rachel were in love, but to have it made explicit is great (I think this is one of those instances of queer romance where it’s sort of infuriating that the original writers didn’t just make it textual, even if it’s clear from subsequent material that they fully intended the relationship to be read that way).  Max confronts the possibility that she isn’t supposed to be in this timeline at all.  Chloe comes to terms with her own grief and reaches a place where she can be okay if Max has to go away.  It’s all very short on plot, but chock full of genuine feels for all the characters involved.  Basically, this issue is a highly refined version of the fanfiction formula, and I’m here for all of it.

On the other hand, Chloe and Rachel Amber are OTP. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo, letters by Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt)

The ending of the issue serves as a satisfying conclusion to the story arc that’s been playing out since the first issue of this series.  Following Max’s decision to stop fighting the pull of the timelines, she disappears from the reality we’ve been following, leaving Chloe to mourn the loss of her second love but with the support of some great friends who care deeply about her.  Max, meanwhile, has to choose a new multiversal destination, and she decides that the best thing she could do is look for a reality where Chloe actually gets what she wants for a change.  The issue concludes with Max appearing on a beach in Los Angeles where Chloe and Rachel Amber have been hanging out.  If the series were ending with this issue, then it’d be a fitting place to leave off; the possibility that Max could start over with Chloe in a world where she wasn’t subjected to all the traumas that we’ve seen her go through.  At the same time, there’s a great narrative hook implied in this moment that I’m really excited to see play out as the series continues.  Max has voluntarily placed herself in a timeline where Chloe got everything she wanted; knowing that, the question of how Max will fit into this Chloe’s life is an interesting one, especially after we’ve just spent an issue establishing that Max really is in love with Chloe.

Either way, Max decides to let Chloe choose, and that’s the best thing of all about the issue. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo)

Reading “Dust – Part 3 of 4”

A lot of the second issue of Life is Strange felt like a series of nods back to the reality of the game itself; Max has encounters with characters that players got to know and love pretty deeply during the original story, and much of what Vieceli explores in that issue deals with coping with the consequences of Max’s decision not to let Chloe die.  We get a series of could-have-beens that are naturally extrapolated from the ending where Chloe’s murdered by Nathan Prescott in the bathroom at Blackwell and the storm doesn’t wipe out Arcadia Bay.  With this issue, we’re moving away from the relatively binary paradigm of the game’s two possible endings into the far more transformative world of authorial reimagining.

I imagine that Chloe keeps all these photos in a shoe box after Max tosses them because they’re not up to her exacting standards. (Cover by Claudia Leonardi; Image credit: Comic Vine)

The issue’s cover features an array of Max’s signature Polaroid photos strewn over a surface with various bits of graffiti by Chloe drawn across them.  Max herself is the central subject of all the visible pictures in the composition.  Chloe is present in only a single pictures as a disembodied hand lightly grasping Max’s.  The key juxtaposition of the cover is between Max’s own self image (all of these pictures are fragmented and focused only on parts of Max’s whole) and Chloe’s own impression of her (notes of encouragement and admiration are partially visible on several of the photos).  Perhaps the most surprising thing that I take away from looking at this cover is that Chloe has branched out from Sharpies and also makes use of Micron pens when the situation doesn’t require a fat felt tip.

On the balance, I think this panel justifies the entire miniseries. Not to be hyperbolic or anything. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo, letters by Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt)

Besides a short sequence where Chloe says what probably a lot of players of the game need to hear validating their decisions in either direction and an opening sequence that gives us a few more pages with the High Seas back in Seattle (Pixie, the drummer and songwriter, totally ships Max and Chloe, and while the rest of the band give her grief about it they’re all clearly in the same boat), the main events of the issue revolve around Max’s encounters with a couple of other significant figures in the Life is Strange story: Warren (whom Vieceli presents as not creepy, at least in the timeline where he was Max’s adventure buddy instead of Chloe) and Rachel Amber.  Warren’s appearance is more significant for helping catch Max (and I guess the reader if they haven’t yet figured out that she’s phasing through different timelines) up to what’s going on in mechanical terms, but Rachel Amber’s two page cameo is way more of a gut punch.  In the larger mythos of Life is Strange, Rachel Amber is a significant figure: she and Chloe were intimately involved in the years after Max moved away from Arcadia Bay, and her disappearance in the original game leaves a shadow over everything that happens.  Max tripping into a timeline (along with Chloe) where Rachel is still alive and the three of them are close friends presents for the first time within official materials connected to the series the possibility of a timeline where all the messed up stuff in the game just didn’t happen.  No Mark Jefferson arriving at Blackwell and kidnapping girls for his creep photos, no mentoring Nathan Prescott to do the same and then accidentally killing Rachel Amber, no torrent of relentless tragedy in these girls’ lives.  It’s a possibility that Rachael and I have discussed a little bit in reflecting on the series; we’ve concluded that the writers on Life is Strange and Before the Storm created a universe that specifically hates Chloe Price, but also enjoys making all of her closest people suffer too.  If there’s nothing else positive to say about this series (and I think there are a lot of things to recommend Vieceli and Leonardi’s work), they at least have given us a view of a timeline where the three girls at the center of this whole saga have a happy life together.

Setting aside the feelsy fan service, the larger implications of Max’s timeline hopping begin to come into focus.  Warren, in his late issue appearance, compares the whole thing to the premise of Quantum Leap: Max is hopping timelines in the way that Sam Beckett was hopping time periods, which presumably ends with her returning home.  Given the number of times in the last couple issues Max has tripped from one timeline to another without returning to the original one (I appreciate that these are always subtle moments that are only signaled by a shift in Chloe’s clothing), there’s a bit of hope offered up at the end of the penultimate issue of the story.  Hope for what, I’m not entirely sure; the starting timeline we see here is pretty good for Max and Chloe if you discount the deaths of everyone they ever cared about in their hometown, but it’s also not objectively the best, as evidenced by the one where Rachel Amber’s still alive and none of the stuff with Jefferson happened.  Are we hoping that Max gets to the best timeline or are we hoping that she gets to a timeline where she belongs, and are those things compatible or mutually exclusive?

There’s a small scene early in this issue where Max and Chloe are hanging out in Chloe’s trashed room after Max recovers from her most recent episode.  In the midst of their conversation about responsibility and survivor’s guilt, they notice that a bird has gotten into the house, and is now trapped.  Chloe’s befuddled by the bird’s predicament, wondering aloud why it would choose to be there when it can go wherever it wants.  Of course, Chloe and the reader both know that the bird didn’t actually choose anything; it got trapped in a place by accident due to forces outside its control or understanding.  The revelation that Max is tripping through timelines in some random, undirected attempt to get back to where she’s supposed to be is much the same thing.  The big difference is that there is a clear reason why Max would be present in this timeline: it has Chloe.

Don’t do it, Chloe! You’re releasing the metaphorical Max into the metaphorical timestream! Maybe. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo, letters by Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt)