Last Week’s Comics 3/8/2017

Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys: The Big Lie #1

(Dynamite – Writer: Anthony Del Col; Artist: Werther Dell’Edera.)

Here’s a fun twist on an old game: Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, reinvented for a modern audience with pulp/noir tropes galore? Consider my interest piqued.

I was a huge fan of the Hardy Boys as a kid. The sleuthing brothers were a product of the Stratemeyer Syndicate and ghost written by who knows how many different authors (under the name “Franklin W. Dixon.”) There were several Hardys series over the years, but the one I remember most was the mid-1980s reboot Hardy Boys Casefiles, a reworking for a more mature (though still YA) audience. Ten-year-old me thought Casefiles was the bees knees – lots of action, fights, maybe even some telling off of the adults. I had a goal of collecting the entire Casefiles series, but I don’t remember how many I got before losing interest. I also remember noticing as a kid how similar each book was – thematically, in page length, and cliffhanging chapters. Kid me thought the Hardys would have been proud of my detecting skills.

Nancy Drew is synonymous with the Hardys. I’ve read a few of her books but nowhere near as many as of the Hardys. Drew was also a product of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, her numerous series ghost written under the name “Carolyn Keene.” Drew’s series had many of the same factory-made, conveyor belt set ups as the Hardys (uniform length, all the cliffhangers you can imagine, good guys always winning.) Drew also underwent a mid-’80s reboot with The Nancy Drew Files, although my current research tells me these Files predated the Hardys’ by a year. My mother always told me girls matured faster than boys.

There are some crater-sized plot holes in both characters’ series, even when taking into consideration that these books are for kids, not an audience of say, men in their late 30s. Aren’t these high schoolers? When do they find the time to actually go to school? Where does their money come from? And why isn’t there a more robust police force in Bayport, considering how much nefarious activity goes down in this sleepy little town?

More importantly, there are problems with both series being a product of their times, so to speak. Even before I could conceive of a concept of artificial commercial gender constructs of boys toys vs. girls toys, it felt like the Hardys were for boys and Drew was for girls. The Hardys are all-American teens – handsome, athletic, smarter than most of the adults in the room – but I always thought they were a bit square. Drew is intelligent and athletic, but I never understood the “boy problems” that got in her way. I’m certainly curious how Dynamite’s new series Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys: The Big Lie will deal with these issues. Issue #1 is mostly expository back story, establishing our heroes through the lens of 2017. I’ll be cautiously optimistic about this, something that doesn’t come easy to me.

Frank and Joe Hardy have been framed for the murder of their father, disgraced police officer Fenton Hardy. (I’m glad that guy’s out of the way, he was a doddering fool in the books.) The cops are clueless (but they always are, right Frank and Joe?) But a little birdie knows something, a birdie by the name of Nancy Drew. Drew’s mysterious reveal as the only person clued in to the mysterious goings on in Bayport could be setting her up as the strongest and smartest of our titular characters. Or maybe she’s a puppet master with ulterior motives (so much for being optimistic.)

Werther Dell’Edera’s art is what sells me on issue #1. He shows a grasp of noir-esque cinematography in the angles he uses and in the way he cuts from scene to scene. Writer Anthony Del Col starts off strong by introducing us to a more cynical Bayport. He hints at the Hardys’ past as perfect teens, but lets the reader know that some people in town never liked them. Del Col understands how to use hard-boiled language, but there is a fine line in the use of this language, where the Hardys can be seen as tough kids or hammy schleps. There are some embarrassing lines early on (“He’s not the smartest app on the phone.” “They took him away on Thanksgiving Day. Guess he was the turkey to be served”) but I need to remind myself that our heroes are teens, and teens are overly dramatic. As much of a fan of noir tropes that I am, I hope that Del Col doesn’t have Drew be the black widow/femme fatale, and I especially hope she doesn’t turn out to be the girl that has to be saved by the boys.

All smarminess aside, this is a fun book for those of us whose interest in detective stories started out with the Hardys and Drew, then grew into something more sinister. The kids are getting some updating, and they’re about to learn hard lessons about big lies in small towns.

Sal Lucci

Paper Girls # 12

(Image – Writer: Brian K. Vaughan; Artist: Cliff Chiang)

Just when we finally got the Paper Girls gang back together, Brian K. Vaughan pulls them back apart again. As with his other ongoing sci-fi series, Saga, Vaughan seems to relish breaking up tight-knit “families” – for what are friends if not the family you choose – in order to increase tension and to allow for focused characterization.

It’s the last bit that makes it easy to forgive him when he does split up our favorite characters, and this issue of Paper Girls provides us with some necessary character notes for each of the girls in our main group, as well as the mysterious young mother from the last issue.

Issue #11 focused on getting to know KJ, the character missing from the last arc. This most recent chapter lets us see who she is when interacting with Mac, perhaps the most sympathetic of the gang, since both the reader and she knows she’s destined to die at a tragically young age. Mac oscillates somewhere between stoic acceptance of and understandable bitterness towards the fate hanging over her head. The last two issues have shown KJ to be perhaps the most emotionally intelligent of the foursome, and fearlessly brave when it comes to keeping her friends safe. They’re an exciting duo to have matched up, and their scenes together shine.

Meanwhile, in a particularly humorous section, Tiff and Erin figure out a way to use a translator to understand their new companion, who wakes up from a dead faint to sputter disbelieving expletives in the faces of our heroines (teenaged cavewomen: they’re just like us!). She drops a few more hints as to the overarching narrative, though like every other issue, it’s just enough to keep our appetites whetted.

We also check in with our red-mohawk-sporting explorer from the future, who has a run-in with some cavemen (caveboys?) who speak the same language as the young mother hanging with Erin and Tiff, and have some very recognizable symbols painted on their muddy chests. All this is to say that while there’s some majorly familiar vocabulary and symbolism in the art and writing of this series, I still don’t have any clue about what’s really going on.

And that’s okay! As the last pages show, punctuated by Cliff Chiang’s aptitude with drawing teenage ennui directly into the characters’ body language, Paper Girls is still, at its heart, a coming-of-age story about four girls in their early teens finding their place in the world. They just have to do it in a really, really weird world.

Sara Clemens

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Wolverine: Old Man Logan 

(Marvel—Writer: Mark Millar; Artist Steve McNiven)

A lot of people coming out of the recently released movie Logan are going to be confused if they decide to follow up with this storyline, which at least visually inspired the penultimate chapter in Wolverine’s spotty solo film career. I still haven’t seen it yet, but have been meaning to read this miniseries since it ran in the regular Wolverine comics from 2008 to 2009, so to pass the time until I see Logan, I finally read it over the weekend. There’s a lot of good in here, from Steve McNiven’s great artwork to a lot of the ideas and some of the characterization pulled off by writer and movie kickstarter Mark Millar. There’s also a bunch of bad, like the execution of some of these ideas and the monstrously problematic third act.

It’s probably a good thing that the X-Men characters exist in their own Fox movie studio universe. For starters, they’re a great collection of characters, many of whom still have been thoroughly ignored. Hopefully if Hugh Jackman stays away after these movies like he says he will, we can get a movie properly giving characters like Jean Grey and Cyclops their due, just two of many major X-Men characters slighted by the movies in my opinion. We also won’t get a clan of incestuous cannibalistic Hulks that own California, or a number of established characters behaving in head-scratching ways for the sake of lame shock passing as drama.

The effective and simple premise of this story is that in a post-apocalyptic alternate future 50 years from now the United States and most likely the world has been decimated, due to a coordinated attack in our present by the super villains of Marvel Comics. Logan is now retired and raising a family on an isolated farm in Hulk’s California territory, haunted by a horrific thing he did the night everything fell 50 years earlier. He is recruited by the blind Clint Barton (Hawkeye) to deliver a mysterious package over to New York. They must traverse a decimated United States in the Spider-Mobile, where villains including Doctor Doom and Kingpin rule over their territories like feudal lords. They also serve the will of a mysterious maniacal president who coordinated the super villain attacks. All of this is great, and the characterization and chemistry between Logan and Clint Barton is fantastic. The road trip idea is great. It’s the details that are problematic.

(beginning of rant and spoilers)

I get it, it’s a post-apocalyptic world where humanity has hit the skids, people behave in depraved and nonsensical ways. Maybe it’s just seeing this play out in comics, TV and movies so much since 2008 that has burned me out on this nihilism. I blame The Walking Dead. There are scenes in this comic that are shocking but make little to no sense. Stuff like the implied numerous acts of rape of Jennifer Walters aka She-Hulk by cousin Bruce Banner off-panel to create his brood is a type of hallow sick and disgusting shock that tends to be a frequently employed trick by Mark Millar in his comic book writing unfortunately, and is my biggest problem with this story. There are some dumb explanations given for Banner’s motivations, but they seem so tossed off and last-minute, which shouldn’t be the case since this is how the story begins and ends and provides much of Logan’s character motivation.  Also this Logan still has his adamantium skeleton, so I think one of the last shocking acts that the Hulk commits would be quite difficult to pull off, unless Hulk digestive acid is really effective.

A couple of other problems include the fact that Wolverine does the horrible thing that he does due to a c-level villain’s trickery, a similar stunt to what Millar pulled off in the series Wolverine: Enemy of the State. In this case it seems like it would be pretty easy to brush off due to the psychic abilities of some of the inhabitants of the X-mansion though. Also, the big showdown that this whole road trip builds up to with President Big Bad and his thugs feels anticlimactic and pointless to me, since they’re all braindead morons. It does echo our current situation in the white house though, so that’s something.

(end of rant and spoilers)

That said, you really should read this series if you’re interested in reading landmark tales of Wolverine, just be prepared when you do for some “to the extreme behavior” passing off as drama. It goes to show that comic books were still growing up even in 2008, and it’s nice to know that there has been a solid amount of progressive good in comic book stories that has occurred in the almost decade since this ran in the pages of Wolverine. I really did like mostly everything leading up to the last issue and Giant-Sized special of this miniseries, and that’s what it seems like the creators of Logan mined for the movie. The Old Man Logan character, the premise and the visuals are great, even Logan/Wolverine’s character arc is really well done. All I’m saying is that it’s just a good thing though that this ongoing Fox/Disney studio rights war prevented us from seeing on the big screen a number of characters behave in confusingly horrible and moronic ways for the sake of some pointless shock.

Michael Edwards

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