The first issue of Nick Spencer and Christian Ward’s The Infinite Vacation was a near perfect debut, boosted by a killer concept that offered an intriguing spin on the hot button topic of social networking. Just like the first work by a promising new band, Spencer and Ward’s series provoked an instant response of “Why hasn’t someone done this before?” It felt natural and breezy and even its failures — like the awkward photo section that has been improved in this second issue — were admirable in their ambition. And just like the second steps of so many of those same promising new groups, the second issue Infinite Vacation can be a little clumsy, even if it mostly rises above its problems.
Issue two of Infinite Vacation is most definitely not any kind of sophomore slump. Think of it as more of a De La Soul is Dead than a Second Coming — that is to say, not quite the revelation its predecessor was, but still vital enough to eagerly await the follow-up. We don’t get much more of an explanation of how the titular vacation works (which is honestly probably for the best); instead, we’re walked through the events and thought process that finally clues Mark in on the fact that he’s a bit of a dick no matter what reality he’s in.
How do we know this? Well, outside Mark’s team-up with the hillbilly, hacker and, uh, nudist versions of himself and the framing of his pedophile counterpart, Mark also learns more about the conspiracy to inflict genocide (personocide? what would you even call this?) on the Marks of myriad realities. Mark learns that someone is searching for a special Mark and he might just be the one. Instead of treating this as, I don’t know, cause for concern or maybe a sign that he should pick up his act, Mark is just excited that he really is special after all.
Ward turns that moment into an utter blast, making it simultaneously huge and microscopic simply through the focus on Mark’s face and the infinitely looping figures behind him. Ward is one of the masters of comic acting, able to turn a simple movement of a character’s eyes on page nine into of the most hilarious scenes in the book, so of course that climactic personal moment for Mark looks deceptively simple. The humor of Infinite Vacation in general is too often overlooked in reviews, probably because Spencer’s wit is so dry but also likely due to the overall cerebral nature of the story.
The truth is the humor of Infinite Vacation is what works best here in issue two rather than the more grandiose conspiracy plans Spencer has. When Mark is paired with increasingly more absurd variations of himself, or when he’s left alone in a reality where he’s a “Deadender” and only has a big book marked “To Do” to guide him through that Mark’s life, the book is at its most spritely. These sections move effortlessly and feel entirely comfortable; better yet, they don’t sacrifice any of Spencer’s high concepts in the process.
Where Infinite Vacation struggles is when Spencer feels the need to inject horror and grand machinations. The book takes a huge turn for the worse in its back half, when the conspiracy against Mark becomes a little clearer and a genuine monster is unveiled. Maybe the tonal change would be a little more effective if Spencer hadn’t already tried the same trick in Morning Glories. The monster here isn’t quite the same as the one that stalks the darker spaces of Morning Glory Academy but the similarities and the gore are just a little too derivative of that book and not half as interesting.
It’s clear that Spencer’s ambition is sometimes his worst enemy. Spencer is an immensely talented guy who seems to have a boundless imagination and, to his detractors, his books are nonstop displays of Spencer’s fancies. A large portion of this issue will offer plenty of ammunition for those detractors but the strength of the quieter, more personal moments in the book should offer ample proof that shock and awe isn’t Spencer’s only mode. Stumbles aside, though, The Infinite Vacation remains an intriguing book with an especially promising future.