After getting curbed stomped by the Hadrian, Declan and Chang lay helpless while Luisa and Victor attempt to regroup. Just as the Hadrian gains target acquisition on Luisa, she pulls a Hail Mary and takes out the killer robot much to the relief of Victor. Realizing Declan and Chang are on the verge of checking out, Luisa and Victor hatch a desperate plan to save them, while the Jersey Devil and Roscoe continue their “first date” with the Jersey Devil playing Freud.
Commander Le Bevere storms the hospital that serves as the base of operations of Doc Awesome, which proves to be a really bad idea and is forced to put an end to Declan and Chang who have just been brought in by Luisa and Victor.
While Victor is tending to Declan and Chang, Luisa displays her tactical skills as she puts on an overcoat and straps on enough firepower that would make Chow Yun Fat proud. After amassing an insane amount of casualties due to an ill chosen strategy of human wave attacks, Le Bevere’s men realize heavier ordnance is required which cuts short Luisa’s tribute to John Woo’s Hardboiled. However, the timing is perfect for a comeback for our two favorite cybernetic mercenaries.
Declan and Chang #5 is a brilliant display of the Yuan Twins earning their keep as storytellers as they make the transition from cliffhanger to penultimate issue.
The penultimate issue is probably one of the most difficult issues to produce in any medium. A creative team needs to be on the top of their game because if they just hold off till the final issue, it looks like they are phoning it in. If they go all out, then there is nothing left for the conclusion but to mop up. An example of the latter would be the episode “Red Rose” of the Sons of Anarchy. It is a pivotal episode where three beloved main characters meet their fate, however, the final episode of the show feels strangely anticlimactic. That type of overcompensation can be disastrous because it negatively impacts the final episode and series itself.
While the penultimate episode of Breaking Bad “Granite State” is intense but in no way weakens the series finale. Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould craft a brilliant story that puts both Walter White and Jesse Pinkman in a complete state of vulnerability. Both their current situations are so severe that it makes the audience even more invested in seeing the final episode because they are eager to learn what happens to Walter White, Jesse Pinkman and the other surviving characters.
Two examples of excellent penultimate issues in comics are the Transformers limited series that was published by Marvel and the Ennis and Mcrea classic “Hitman”.
Before Michael Bay, there were the Transformers cartoon and comic book series that was based on the Hasbro toy line, which was introduced in the 1980’s. The cartoon and the animated film get plenty of accolades, however limited series published by Marvel garners only a fraction of the attention, which is unfortunate because it is an excellent limited series.
“Prisoner of War!” was written by Jim Salicrup and penciled by Frank Springer and this penultimate issue of the limited series is a wet dream for comic book readers since it features Spider-Man in his Secret Wars black costume teaming up with the Autobot Gears. It is a fantastic issue because of the chicanery that the two get involved in and answers the following question: What would happen if Megatron and Spiderman met? It ends in a shocking manner when a betrayal is revealed.
“Closing Time” is the final arc in the Hitman comic book series and issue #59 is where Tommy Monaghan, Natt the Hat and Kathryn McAllister take the final steps in bringing down Truman, a diabolical CIA operative who is attempting to recreate a process similar to how Tommy gained his special abilities. Tommy faces Marc Navorne who is the son of Johnny Navorne, who he killed in issue #7. Even Tommy is aware that it was a one and a million shot because Johnny Navorne was considered to be an assassin of the highest order. It is made clear that the son is no pushover either and in fact it appears he is better than his late father. When the two finally meet face to face, it is probably one of the most shocking and surreal duels in comic book history because it ends on such an abrupt and unexpected note.
Awareness of the expectations of the readers is imperative. But awareness does not mean being bound by them, but being able to manage those expectations. In both of these penultimate issues, both creative teams were both aware and managed the expectations of the reader but were not controlled by them. What is expected is to be denied and there must be a complete disregard of the mortality of the story itself. Fan service be damned.
Transformers #3 is a memorable penultimate issue because it leaves the reader expecting more from the final issue. After all, if Spider-Man can show up, then the possibilities are endless. Despite the restraints of a limited series. Salicrup does not hold back in the final issue of the limited series, due in part to the popularity of the series.
The penultimate issue of Hitman #59 issue is shocking because of the final confrontation between hero and villain. It is a pretty risky move because it empties the chambers and by all appearances leaves very little for the conclusion. However, the final issue of Hitman is quite memorable due to the emotional impact that is reminiscent to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Throughout the series, Garth Ennis had inferred that as beloved members of his inner circle began to fall, it would only be a matter of time before Tommy would be joining them. With the introduction of Marc Navorne in the final arc, the fate of Tommy Monagan was foreshadowed and readers became convinced that the final issue would be where Marc Navarone would have a hand in Tommy’s final moments. Of course readers should know by now that Garth Ennis refuses to follow convention and he rubs that in our face much to our delight.
It is too easy and predictable a route for a penultimate issue to serve just as a cliffhanger. It also must serve as the last part of a puzzle that is solved by the final issue. The creative team must tread very, very carefully, because how the puzzle is solved in the final issue must make sense for the reader. Any radical changes to the story line that they are unable or unsuccessful to resolve in the final issue will leave the reader completely dissatisfied by the experience.
From the git go this series was firing on all cylinders and now the Yuan Twins have hit the nitrous and could care less if they crash and burn. Even though they could save it for the final issue and play it safe, they have chosen to disregard the mortality of the story. Mind you, this should not be confused with showing contempt for the reader. The Yuan Twins are actually showing respect to the reader by putting themselves in a risky position.
But they are not being stupid about it. Which brings me to Under Siege. This action vehicle, which was a prototype of the Diehard formula, featured Steven Seagal taking on a group of terrorists on a US Navy battleship. It is considered to be one of Seagal‘s best films, but here is a fun fact. Out of 103 minutes, he is only in it for 41 minutes. The core of the success of this film was not Steven Seagal but the fact that the film was structured to carry him, which required the director Andrew Davis and screenwriter J.J Lawton to focus the film on the strong supporting cast which included Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Busey, Colm Meany, Nick Mancuso, Patrick O’Neal and Andy Romano. This structure allowed the lead role to be interchangeable for any action star. In all honesty, Seagal could be replaced with a turnip and the audience would not notice.
By no means am I comparing Steven Seagal with Declan and Chang. If they were actually to meet, Declan and Chang would probably drop Seagal in a pit covered in barbecue sauce with a bunch of Cleetas programmed with a hatred for pulled pork. However, what transpired in issue # 5 reminded me of the structure of Under Siege.
Despite the two main characters being put out of commission and leaving the supporting players to carry the story, the Yuan Twins used that to their advantage by creating opportunities for character and plot development. Although he acts as the straight man of the two, Victor displays to his wife a knack for improvisation, which comes in quite handy, as they sneak Declan and Chang into the hospital. It appears that psychological warfare is also part of her genetic makeup of the Jersey Devil as she manipulates Rosoce in facing the complexities of his relationship with his father and making a decision that has huge consequences for the final issue.
Issue #4 demonstrated the teamwork of Luisa, Declan and Chang. Issue #5 shows her full capabilities, as she single-handedly takes on all comers. The Yuan Twins craft an action sequence that is worthy of The Raid. The bottleneck sequence alone has elements of the final gunfight scene from the Luc Besson classic The Professional, particularly, the blackout scene is quite impressive particularly due to the high level of difficulty to execute. It is deceptively simple due to the minimalist art, but it requires dedicated hours of precise ink work and proper figure placement in order to create the sequential action of an ambush that is lit by flash muzzles.
This is why it is absolutely imperative for a series to have a strong supporting cast. Just as a protagonist needs an antagonist, it also needs a strong supporting cast to add more dimension to the story.
Since the beginning, Declan and Chang have been given the short end of the stick and by the end of issue of #5 they have grabbed hold of the stick and are about to beat senseless anything in their path. It is a radical departure from the past four issues and it works because it is well within the themes of this series.
As penultimate issues go, Declan and Chang #5 can stand with the best of them. The Yuan Twins recognized this issue as an occasion to develop the supporting characters and to consolidate and strengthen the plotlines. Although the end is only an issue away, the Yuan Twins have completely ignored it but they did not ignore their readers. Which has only set the stage for a climatic final issue.
As I have stated from my review of issue #3, I became very suspicious of what was truly transpiring. This latest issue has only heightened my concerns, particularly how Luisa was able to dispatch the Haridan and when she had to attend to more pressing matters in the hospital, leaving Declan and Chang in a vulnerable state. Even though they appear to be unfounded, any discernable reader should at least question the final pages.
I have examined the last five issues like the Zapruder film and have formed my own theory regarding the conclusion of this series. Until it ends, I am keeping it to myself. But what I do know for sure is that there is definitely one character that will not be left unscathed, even if they do survive.