How reliable is memory? And what really happened to Betty all those years ago? Find out in the unexpected conclusion to Ruby Falls #4, from Dark Horse Comics!
Writer: Ann Nocenti
Artist: Flavia Biondi
Colorist: Lee Loughridge
Letterer: Sal Cipriano
Editor: Karen Berger
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Cover Price: $3.99
Release Date: January 1, 2020
Previously in Ruby Falls: Lana’s research into Betty leads her to the old gangster, Marty Byrne, who tells her more of Betty’s story, which involves Lana’s great-grandfather, who was also a butcher. Lana’s grandmother, Clara, is in the tunnels outside of town with a security guard who has orders from Byrne to “take care” of her. As they go through the tunnels by boat, she talks about what it was like, as a little girl, having to clean the floor after Betty was struck down. Once they get where she was going, Clara hits the guard with an oar.
TRUST AND TRUTH
Lana and Blair figure out where Clara went, and as Ruby Falls #4 opens, they prepare to descend into the mine tunnels using Blair’s silks. Blair, who is almost Lana’s conscience in questions she asks of her and the insight she has, asks whether Clara actually witnessed a murder. We turn back to memory at this point. Clara, Lana says, thinks it’s okay to warp a memory, if it makes you happy. In fact, this is just what human memory does all the time on its own. But Lana has her own example – a strong and precious memory she had, which her mother disproved with a photograph. Lana has resented her mother since. Blair pokes a little further into this and discovers that Lana’s own mother was a Betty.
Clara is alive and in a flooded shaft by a bricked-up archway. The guard she struck is still alive but tied up. Clara may have dementia, but she is still canny. Queenie, the dog, shows up, and Clara tells the guard to give the dog the hat she had been wearing. Her memory is fleeting. The next moment, she doesn’t know why she’s there, why she has a marker (she’s been writing things she wants to remember on her arms), or what she is doing. In a moment that brings home the twistiness of words, Clara then says that she knows Marty Byrne ordered him to kill her. And he says, no, “I was supposed to take care of you.” Which double meaning is the one which is real?
In town, there is a fall festival. In the chaos, puzzle pieces start coming together. A man’s clothes were stolen; someone cut their hair – maybe the old lady that went missing disguised herself as a man. Lana’s parents have brought their businesses out to the street and they talk about Lana and whether she has much of a future. They come to a truce about the time a police officer comes up to them to tell them they think Clara disguised herself, and at that moment Queenie arrives and shakes off red, liquid droplets. Not blood – mud from the red dirt of the mine shafts.
We finally learn the basis for some of the tension between Lana and her mother. Greta was liberated, ahead of her time, and yearned to get out of town and make something of her life. But she became pregnant with Lana and ended up stuck in Ruby Falls. Lana has felt guilty about this – and maybe Greta has played on this. Lana and Blair find the tied-up guard who tells them Clara has broken out. They need to jump down the shaft to follow her. Blair volunteers, but Lana steps up and decides to go with her. I think this is symbolic of her stepping up and taking their relationship more seriously.
They find Clara. This is almost anticlimactic, but the tension of the story isn’t about finding her; it’s about finding out Betty’s full story, which we hear again, but with yet another twist. The men of the town left Betty to the butcher and the women. The men thought she’d been killed and disposed of. But she was still alive when the women were left with her. What happened next, the women knew, but no one ever talked about it again.
There is a resolution and an epilogue which are satisfying. What I really love about this story is the exploration of memory, communication, and lack of communication. It is easy to misunderstand and misinterpret things. And the same event may be felt and understood in different ways, depending on your viewpoint.
CLEAN AND CRISP
The art of Ruby Falls #4 frames the story beautifully. It opens with the girls descending into the mines on silks, paralleling the opening of issue #1 although the stakes are higher. We can see how Lana has grown. Instead of being reckless and aimless, she has a focus in her life now, a focus which will shape her and give her a path for her future.
Clara is handled deftly. She goes from certainty to being lost and confused in a flash, and we see this in her face and her body language. Is her final story the real truth, or it is yet another memory that, being kept, becomes real? There’s a later scene when she goes to Ruby’s bar in her guise as a man, and she even acts as though she sees herself as a man for a few panels. And as she talks, we see the wisps of memory that she sees, and we see them drift away.
BOTTOM LINE: GENERATIONS AND SECRETS
Ruby Falls #4 is a terrific exploration of a cold case, generational secrets, and how confining life can be. By this final chapter, the women understand each other, and even themselves, a bit better.
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Ruby Falls #4
Memories are ephemeral and easily malleable, and that is what makes them important in our lives.