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From A Library: Mystery Society

Mystery Society #1–5
Written by Steve Niles
Art by Fiona Staples

How did I not hear about this comic book before? I like to think I keep abreast of the comic-book world, and particularly for comic books that appeal to my tastes, but I completely missed this mini-series when it came out in 2010. I didn’t know anything about it until I saw a copy of the collected edition in the library, attracted by the Fiona Staples art (she is deservedly a big star thanks to her fabulous work on Saga), and now I’ve found something that I adore, even though it’s unlikely to be gracing the world with any more issues.

In an interview at CBR to promote the subsequent one-off, Niles describes the pitch for the Mystery Society: what if Nick and Norah from The Thin Man ran the X-Men? That’s a great idea on its own, but what’s better is that he’s also managed to achieve that goal in the execution of the comic book. In this case, Nick and Norah are Nick and Anastasia Mystery (they changed their name), a loving married couple – always great to see a functioning relationship in entertainment, where dysfunctional relationships or how relationships start are the norm – who won the lottery and created the Mystery Society in order to uncover the world’s paranormal secrets. He is charming, handsome (he’s drawn to look like Errol Flynn) but with heart in the right place; she is smart, beautiful, and more than capable of taking care of herself. Together, they are still madly in love with each other and with the idea of revealing the truths of the secret world. This trade paperback is essentially the ‘getting the band together’ story.

We meet Nick as he is about to start a prison sentence; he decides to tell the assembled press the story of how he came to be going to prison. It starts with his breaking out Project X2X from Area 51: actually, Sally and Nina (aka the Atomic Twin) twin black girls in their teens, kept in a suspended animation by the US military. The reason? Well, they have superpowers: telekinesis, teleportation, telepathy … Meanwhile, back at Mystery Society headquarters, Anastasia is visited by the Secret Skull – actually a young woman called Samantha who was bitten by a ghoul, so now she’s invincible, forever young and very dead (and also a character Niles created about five years previously for another comic book). Samantha wants to join the Mystery Society.

Nick has escaped with the twins and returned to headquarters, only to be framed for attacking and killing soldiers and millions of dollars of property damage. Then the brain of Jules Verne in a robot body crashes through the skylight, telling them that he wants to help. Because COMICS! The military arrive to arrest Nick, so it’s time for the Mystery Society to escape and split into teams, in classic superhero style: the Skull and Jules Verne go to find Edgar Allan Poe’s skull (it has been stolen and the Mystery Society has been asked to retrieve it), while Nick, Anastasia and the girls try to clear Nick, which unfortunately involves breaking back into Area 51 and stealing the unedited footage of what really happened …

I really liked this comic book. I liked the two main characters (although I prefer Nick without the moustache, but that’s just me) and their interplay, I like the concept, I like the scope for unlimited stories, I like the art, I like the humour, I like it all. I haven’t read much by Niles because I’m not a huge horror fan, so this was a pleasant surprise – the snappy banter, the playfulness, the diversity of the group. The only sad thing is that not enough people liked it so there won’t be any more. Part of the appeal is in the Staples art, which is great: her soft yet angular anatomies and faces are a delight, she draws great action but also does a wonderful job of the facial reaction in the comedy (there’s a lovely panel of Anastasia and the twins sharing a telepathy joke that is all in the faces). It’s not as polished as her Saga work, but that’s not a problem. Interestingly, Niles relates in the CBR interview mentioned above that when he found out IDW weren’t going to continue the book, he got a call from Brian K Vaughan looking for an artist and he recommended Staples because she wouldn’t be drawing any more Mystery Society, and a new superstar artist was born.

Mystery Society is fun, sexy, spooky and charming – Niles and Staples have created a great little book that should have been bigger. I’m sorry I didn’t get to see it sooner and try to help it out.

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