"Down and Out in Heaven and Hell, Pt. 2"
Dane refuses to run when confronted by members of The Hunt. Instead, he throws himself at them - and is soundly beaten. However, the hunters back away, saying they only wanted the boy to know that they could kill him whenever they wanted. Dane finds Tom O'Bedlam unharmed, and while giving him back his coat, finds a mysterious blank white badge, presumably left behind by the hunters.
Walking in the park with Tom, Dane expresses dismay at how long he's been living on the streets - several seasons seem to have gone past. He says he needs money, and somewhere to live, but is unable to answer when Tom asks him why. Dane is chastised by Tom for kicking at some pigeons, as Tom claims they are "Invisible" animals. He then strikes Dane on the back of the head, putting him into a trance, and seeming to replace his eyes with a pigeon's.
Seeing from the pigeon's perspective, Dane sees monstrous black birds hovering around St. Paul's Cathedral, and Tom narrates the secrets of cities to him, claiming they are a virus that has infected humanity, forcing humans to build and propagate them, but they have magic that can be claimed by those they make deals with. He tells Dane that he has been subconsciously teaching him for months, just like this, which is why Dane does not remember much of the passage of time.
Sitting in a playground near a church, Tom asks Dane questions about Harmony House, and then begins to reveal to him the two sides at war in the conflict. They are interrupted by a young man and woman strolling through the playground. The woman mentions the Harlequin, and says that a man named Billy Chang has asked them to prepare "The Hand of Glory." The young man, identified as Freddie, expresses fear and the worry that he is haunted. Tom seems to recognize the couple.
Tom again questions Dane about Jack Frost, and Dane reveals that it is just something his mother used to say about Jack Frost coming for him when he was bad, after his father left. Tom continues to push him, and eventually begins physically attacking the boy, chiding him for hiding behind armor and being "just another robot." He eventually throws Dane into the river, holding him down. When Dane emerges, he calls for his lost father to return, and Tom forces him to look at the blank badge, calling it a mirror. Staring at the badge, Dane passes out or goes into a trance.
When he awakens, he claims to feel new, refreshed. He is unafraid to express emotions, and seems happy. Tom tells him that, now that they have experienced life, it is time to experience death. They're going to throw themselves off of the Canary Wharf skyscraper.
So we have to ask ourselves, after his months on the street, after Harmony House and Luan-don and the blue moss, who is our plucky young hero? Have we reached maturity yet? Is maturity somewhere we want to be?
Well, he's brave enough, throwing himself (ineffectually, of course) at the members of "The Hunt" instead of following orders and running. But while the reward for that bravery is the blank badge, he still doesn't know what it means.
He's still operating in all the grooves that the world has carved for him. He's still obsessed with progressing his life toward something he's been told to want, still reacting defensively to questions about himself, still unable to accept the reality of the life he's living. Still the student, asking his endless questions and defending himself with his cheap bravado. Still kicking at pigeons.
The Secret Lives of Cities
There's something horrific about Dane's face with the pigeon's eyes staring out. It smacks of Harmony House, perspectives being forced on others, and the experience isn't pleasant. But where the agents of the Outer Church were forcing a singular perspective on the boys in their care, Tom is expanding Dane's. He's seeing with Invisible eyes, now, the monstrous beasts that hover over the places of the world's power. And he's learning, as promised, the secrets of cities.
They're viruses, to hear Tom tell it, and they're interfering with what he describes as a birthing process. They want us blasting ourselves into space with rockets, so that we'll carry the cities with us. But that's not the true birth, the one this entire series is building toward. No, that's the one where "We have to leave our bodies and our cities behind us and go into space, just like the little fishes had to leave the sea was all they knew."
Or is it that we'll "Leave as insects. When our bodies are no longer needed, we will send out our spirits as a swarm of golden beetles, carrying the sun of pure understanding out of the abyss to our new home among the stars"? Elfayed may have dismissed this as "cleverness" back on Vol. 1., Issue 1, Page 1, but don't expect the idea to go away on his account.
An angler in the lake of darkness
If it seems like the young couple, talking of mysterious things, comes out of nowhere in this issue, that's because it does. Or rather, it comes from exactly where we already were. It's just a matter of when. As we'll see, much further down the line, time starts to bend and contort when the Hand of Glory gets involved, and, as before, there's not much difference between being haunted by ghosts, and things seen out of time.
Ha, and I just noticed while pulling panels for this, Dane asking whether the enemy is "The Devil or something" shares exact space with the young woman telling Freddie they've got Pan and Dionysus on their side. Same guy, different names, different perspectives.
I'm not sure how much Tom knows about the true sides of the coming conflict he tells Dane about, and I'm not sure how much he cares. When he describes the magic of the cities as neither good nor evil, just something to be picked up and used as a tool, he's close to the root of it.
But we're also back into US and THEM territory, the rhetoric of division that Volume One lives in. And who can blame him? It's an easier sell, that there's an enemy and an ally, two strictly delineated sides. The Good Invisibles and the Evil Enemy.
Man, there's shades of Dead Beatles all over this one, now that I look for it. The heiroglyphics we see just before Dane's baptism feature, among other things, our old friend Khepra, sign of transformation and rebirth. Meanwhile, Dane STILL refuses to grasp what "real" means in his situation. Speaking of his imaginary punisher/protector Jack Frost (he of seelisches land, you may remember), he says "It's just in my head. It's not like he's real. It doesn't bother me." But what could bother you more than something living in your head?
Dane's being haunted, and the thing that's haunting him is himself. His toughness, his fear. So that's what Tom's drawing out, with his little BumFights, River Thames Edition. Throwing in Dane's face that even his most extreme rebellions are just part of the system, that after all of this, his desire to just find a place to live is a form of cowardice, of looking away from truth.
And Tom blows that self-inflicted prison to pieces (Your sentence is up). It's a baptism in the traditional sense, washing away "sin" but also depriving him of air until he has to push past it, blowing through the armor and into the pains and fears and past that until there is nothing left but the badge in his hand.
And when you look at the badge (it's a mirror), and see absolutely nothing staring back, that's not nihilism, that's getting ahead of the game. That's your self getting out of the way. Clear of all the chains that were forcing your perspective into the ways the world wanted you to grow. There's nothing in the mirror.
Jack Frost was a prison Dane McGowan made out of himself, with the help of the world. Now he's just Dane. And it's okay to cry, and laugh. It was just the prison telling you to be ashamed of those things that live at the very core of you.
Now, let's throw ourselves off a building, shall we?