Review by Win Wiacek
Sense of Doubt is the second bulky Puma Blues collection, completing what was published in the 1980s. It continues the story of ecological researcher Gavia Immer in what was a future then only fourteen years away in the year 2000. As seen in Watch That Man, Gavia is isolated from the outside world, his TV screen his only means of contact, and he uses extensive down time to view his neglectful father’s video recordings. Are these notations of UFO sightings merely conspiracy theories, or are they connected with his research?
Stephen Murphy and Michael Zulli begin the volume with the same sort of serene contemplation of nature that characterised the first. Radioactive toxins spread after White Supremacists nuked the Bronx, yet Gavia still inhabits a beautiful, idyllic landscape dominated by ancient apex predators like mountain lions, despite perpetual acid rains and ozone layer breaches. The harsh area monitored by the solitary researcher is the site of some radical changes, not least the hauntingly lovely flying mantas proliferating and dominating the skies above Gavia’s head.
There’s certainly plenty of room for new answers. Sense of Doubt reveals the growing dominance of flying mantas is clearly no longer a secret – as Gavia learns to his regret – after an old soldier and radical “neo-Audubon” called Jack invades the Preserve looking for proof of the flying (former) fish. Despite himself, Gavia lets the affable old coot stay, which is a decision he soon has cause to regret.
As animals old and new jostle and tussle to find their niche in the new world order, Gavia sinks further into his father’s videotaped philosophies until he has his revelation and takes off into the heart of America to find out how and why things are falling apart.
Long after publication Murphy revealed there were extensive autobiographical elements to Puma Blues, which may account for there never being any clear path or goal, and sadly this collection ends with the story still not complete.
However, for the hardcover edition in 2015 there is a conclusion. In any form Puma Blues is haunting, chilling, beguiling, intensely imposing and never more timely than now. This is a massive accomplishment and enduring triumph in comics narrative.