Writer Tini Howard, artist Devaki Neogi, and colorist Jen Hickman bring their Cold War con artist alternate history romance comic to a close in Skeptics #4. Mary and Max, who don’t actually have superpowers, and Evgenia and Vasily, who actually do, have hatched an ingenious plan to stop World War III by pretending to not have them and make it one big misunderstanding. It’s a clever, bloodless plan that shows that sometimes cooperation and using one’s wits can win a battle or at the very least a skirmish against brute force, which is President Nelson Rockefeller’s nuclear option idea. Skeptics #4 abounds with love and friendship, especially for this dark time in history, but it’s all bittersweet in the end because sadly four bright young people can’t end the Cold War.
Skeptics #4 has a bit of cold open set in a Washington DC night club where Max is teaching Vasily how to use his power for card tricks, and Max and Evgenia are working a similar con with two boys and their wallets. It’s all set up to make Evgenia and Vasily’s abilities look fake (The opposite of what Max and Mary did earlier in the series where they pretended to have actual powers.), but they also have a good time. Hickman’s colors are downright groovy with a continuous stream of red and yellow in the background while the stylish characters drawn by Neogi chat and listen to some “far out” tunes. But she is back to a neutral palette when the police show up for Mary and Max, who are held and detained illegally because the Rockefeller regime just cares about staying in power and not constitutional rights. (This kind of thinking can be seen in the US’ current administration and its terrible Muslim ban executive order.)
The meat of Skeptics #4’s plot is taken up in Evgenia and Vasily working with Dr. Santaclara to rescue Mary and Max and prevent a nuclear strike, but Howard still finds time to show that they are a hell of a romantic pairing. In the past four issues, the proper and scientific Mary and the churlish, rogue Max have rubbed off each other with Mary learning how to use trickery to get her way, and Max being open with his feelings. Neogi still gives a laidback demeanor as he smokes and relaxes while hanging on his prison bars, but then calls Mary the “loveliest person [he’s] ever met” in a payoff that is more pleasing than any elaborate prison escape scene. This shared bond can be found on a more platonic level as Evgenia and Vasily are overjoyed to strike up a friendship with Mary and Max, and the multiple hugs and little hearts over their heads show their feelings.
Skeptics has been an exciting, twisting and turning Cold War thriller, but what will make me remember it fondly are the personalities and quirks of the characters created by Tini Howard and Devaki Neogi. From Dr. Santaclara’s passion and inability to sit still to Max’s charming glimpses and flirty one-liners to Mary’s determination to break both gender and race barriers in her field and amazing fashion sense, I could have definitely spent more than a miniseries with this cast and seen more of this 1960s alternate history world, which eerily mirrors our own reality in 2017 with both times having underqualified billionaire princelings sitting in the Oval Office.
Story: Tini Howard Art: Devaki Neogi Colors: Jen Hickman
Story: 8 Art: 9 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy
Black Mask Studios provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review