SECOND LIVES is about people's identities, both real and created, and how the two become confused and conflated, particularly through the use of the Internet and an obsessive participation in role-playing games. The story follows three geeky guys who were former college classmates, whose respective make-believe personas lead to their "real" lives colliding ten years later. Added to the mix is the girlfriend of one of these three men, who unlike the men appears to be grounded in reality. However, it's never totally clear until the very end who is play-acting and when. Even the characters themselves aren't always sure - -especially when the outcome is murder.
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Bagge (Hate) again sets his sights on aspects of contemporary human dysfunction, this time focusing on a cast of characters who each hide behind fabricated identities. Vader Ryderbeck—né Vladimir Rostov—is a journalist who cannot move past his awkward teenage years and wallows in unwarranted self-loathing while coping with what remains of his Russian immigrant family. Vladimir encounters a scruffy conspiracy theorist who claims to work for the CIA, and can't shake the feeling that he's met the guy before. Upon deciding to interview the conspiracy nut, Vladimir sets in motion an escalating series of events involving himself, the alleged CIA operative, his old friend Woodrow (who is now an online gaming addict) and his live-in girlfriend, Ivy, who resorts to an online fantasy gaming persona for fulfillment when Vladimir fails to make good on his feeble marriage proposal. To say more would give away the surprises Bagge has in store for those who approach this story cold; while not as funny as some of his previous works more based on social commentary, this is prime Bagge that will surprise readers with its artistic maturity and a plot that is in no way predictable. (Apr.)
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Secret identities, a comic-book staple ever since Clark Kent, here receive grimly humorous treatment for the twenty-first century. Best known for chronicling 1990s Seattle slackers in the comic book Hate, Bagge now gives us a quartet of neurotic misfits: insecure journalist Vader Ryderbeck; his girlfriend, Ivy; his computer-savvy friend Woodrow; and Homeland Security agent Otis, an asocial slob who still lives with his mother. Each has secrets, some more dangerous than others. Vader changed his name to escape his family, Otis is an undercover operative gone uncontrollably freelance, and Ivy and Woodrow are carrying on a torrid, avatar-based relationship in the virtual-space “Second World.” They could be grown-up versions of characters from Hate, for besides their misfit status, they share the distinctive speech patterns and attitude of bemused resignation that distinguish Hate’s Buddy Bradley and his friends. What ties them most firmly to their precursors is Bagge’s distinctively wild, broadly cartoony drawing style. Rather than undermining the serious themes that underlie the story, however, Bagge’s loopy visual idiom effectively reinforces the characters’ pathetic-but-humorous, self-delusional nature. --Gordon Flagg
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