Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
A mini-series I thought I wouldn’t like … yet I ended up buying it! Was I wrong? The answers lie below!!!!
IDW released Mystery Society last year. I did not get the single issues, even though I don’t like waiting for the trade when the book is from a smaller publisher (non-Big Two, in other words) because there’s still no guarantee the book will get a trade. When I saw the solicitation, I decided to pass on it, mainly because of Steve Niles, who writes it. I don’t have anything against Steve Niles – 30 Days of Night is a very good comic – I just feel he’s better at coming up with ideas and not as good with the execution. With the exception of his first vampire epic, everything I’ve read by him has not lived up to some excellent high-concept ideas. So despite the presence of artist Fiona Staples, who’s quite good, I decided to pass. I’m not sure why I decided to get the trade. I had heard a little about the series, but not much. Maybe I just like chucking money away! So I plunked down my $19.99 (minus 20% that my store discounts) and read the confounded thing. You know – it ain’t bad at all.
There are some problems with it, of course. Niles gives us the story of Nick and Anastasia Mystery – they changed their last names – a husband and wife team of paranormal investigators. They were once just interested in the weirdness of the world before they inherited some money and could pursue a more hands-on approach. At the beginning of this volume, Nick is about to be thrown in prison when he decides to narrate his origin story to the gaggle of reporters covering the event. It’s an odd way to get into the story – would the guards really let him speak for so long? – but I can live with it. Apparently the Mystery Society has just started, because Nick is in Area 51 “recruiting” members – in this case, twin girls who have been kept in an underground bunker for over 50 years (yet they’re still young!!!). Nick busts them out, learns they have some extraordinary powers themselves, and earns the enmity of the United States military and government. Meanwhile, Anastasia gets a visit from a ghoulish-looking person calling herself the Secret Skull – she’s actually a zombie wearing a skull mask for some reason. She wants to join the Society as well! And then a robot with the brain of Jules Verne in its head drops in, also clamoring for membership. And we’re off!
Yes, it’s that kind of book – one with a robot with Jules Verne’s brain inside it. That kind of character is made for comics, but we’ve seen so many kewl robots over the years that this just feels silly, plus there’s the fact that we have absolutely no idea how Jules Verne got his brain into a robot or what he’s been doing for a century. I know we’re supposed to go with it, but I can’t – it’s a Kewl Idea with nothing propping it up, and it nagged me the entire time I was reading the book. A lot of the book is like that – you can’t just sit around and think, “What if I put Jules Verne’s brain into a robot’s body!” and expect it to write itself. Niles throws a lot of stuff in here that sounds neat but are basically empty ideas. It makes the book less interesting than it could be, because what’s there isn’t developed very much. The two main plots – the government is hunting the Society because they’re debunking myths and revealing secrets, plus their first case involving the theft of Edgar Allan Poe’s skull – are decent enough – but Niles does a lot of skimming over the surface. He doesn’t really care about the theft of the skull – even Samantha, the “Secret Skull,” comments on how easy it is to solve – so there’s no reason for us to care. It’s not that I want it to be difficult to solve – it’s not really that kind of book – but it should be more interesting. The main antagonist, Percy Powell, is a doofus as well, so it’s not like we actually think he’s any threat to our heroes – he’s more comic relief than a good bad guy.
What Niles does pretty well is write some very good dialogue – Nick and Anastasia, specifically, have a nice relationship, and we can easily believe they’ve been married for a while and are still wildly in love. Nick is a rogue, but he’s a charming rogue, and he milks that quite well throughout the book. It’s a funny book, too – even though Percy isn’t a good antagonist for our heroes, his ineptitude is funny, and his final fate is goofy and perfectly suited for him. All of the characters have strong personalities and Niles does a good job showing them interact. It’s frustrating that he didn’t give them a better plot, as that’s usually his strong suit.
Staples is also a big draw, and she’s amazing on this book. Nick looks like Errol Flynn (deliberately, I imagine), and a certain Ms. Thompson would be ecstatic to see Anastasia, because she’s an attractive woman who doesn’t have large breasts and dresses in real clothes that look good on her. That shouldn’t be such a big deal, but unfortunately, it is. Verne’s robot is a nice steampunk kind of thing, and Staples does an interesting thing with Samantha, making her both ghoulish (therefore highlighting the tragedy that she’s, you know, dead) and silly (therefore showing that she has a sense of humor). Staples doesn’t ink too heavily, giving the pencil work a soft and even burnished look, and the color palette backs this up – the artwork doesn’t pop because her colors are muted a bit, but everything blends with everything else nicely and makes the outlandish a bit more “realistic” and helping the reader accept, for instance, a golden robot with a brain inside it. Staples is getting higher-profile work all the time, which is nice, because this book shows she can handle a lot of different situations.
If you’ve never been a fan of Niles’s horror stuff, Mystery Society is a bit of a departure for him and it might appeal to you. If you’re a fan of Niles’s horror stuff, this isn’t blood-soaked or creepy, but it’s a good read. And Staples’s art is a treat. Don’t get that trade of some mediocre Big Two mini-series – get this one instead!!!
Tomorrow: A high concept mash-up!
Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.