Mystery Society by Steve Niles and Fiona Staples

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsMystery Society by Steve Niles (writer) and Fiona Staples (artist)

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsIf you are looking for a light, funny read with beautiful art, you should check out Mystery Society by Steve Niles and Fiona Staples. The basic story sounds like it should be written seriously, but Niles turns to wit instead. The Mystery Society is a renegade group devoted to debunking myths (or verifying them), revealing military secrets, and exposing the lies of reporters (who have themselves been lied to, as one character points out). What’s amusing? The team includes not just psychic twin sisters with a mysterious secret and a woman bit by a ghoul who calls herself “Secret Skull,” but also the brain of Jules Verne housed in a robot body (with — I kid you not — a “butt jet”).

The relationship between the two main characters is what makes this book work so well. Nick Hammond and his wife Anastasia Collins talk like an old moneyed couple from a lost play by Oscar Wilde, but they are very much a modern nouveau riche pair with their recently acquired millions. Or perhaps the better comparison would be Dashiell Hammett’s noir novel mystery society 2The Thin Man and the wisecracking Nick and Nora Charles. With both male leads named Nick and the similarities between the couples so strong, I am almost surprised Anastasia’s name isn’t Nora. Their banter during dangerous missions is identical to their discussion over drinks. Everything is a laugh and not to be taken seriously.

Before becoming notorious leaders of the Mystery Society, they ran a used bookstore and lived above it in a small apartment: There they planned some really “like” cool stuff while “totally” high and giggly. We get to see all these stoner-fueled ideas come to fruition in this short comic book as they pursue their major missions against an obnoxious power-mad General and his spoiled brat of a son. We also follow the team on some minor missions like recovering the stolen skull of E. A. Poe! I love the idea of the preserved brain of Jules Verne tracking down the lost skull of Poe, particularly since Poe’s literature influenced Verne’s writing.

The art, too, is fantastic. In fact, that’s why I picked up the book initially. Every book by Steve Niles that I’ve picked up in the past has not appealed to me once I’ve looked at the artwork. He seems to work in more horrific genres and sub-genres than I normally enjoy, but with Mystery Society, he mystery society 4worked with Fiona Staples, an artist I’ve come to greatly admire as I’ve been reading Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga, one of the best selling creator-owned comics at the moment (See my previous review). Her artwork there has won Staples many new fans, and it’s just as good in Mystery Society, in my opinion.

I think there will be some who might not like this book because of how light it is. I can’t imagine any other reason not to enjoy Mystery Society. It’s perfect at doing exactly what it’s aiming to do. It’s tongue-in-cheek all the way, and you can’t be dead serious at the same time. I hate it when books are faulted for what they are obviously trying to do. If you’ve read Hammett’s The Thin Man and don’t like it because it’s not as serious as The Maltese Falcon or his even better Continental Op stories and novels, then you aren’t reading The Thin Man on its own terms. But if you laugh with Niles, Staples, and the entire Mystery Society team, you’ll get a complete kick out of it. I promise you. It’s no Watchmen, but then again, it’s not trying to be.


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BRAD HAWLEY, who's been with us since April 2012, earned his PhD in English from the University of Oregon with areas of specialty in the ethics of literature and rhetoric. Since 1993, he has taught courses on The Beat Generation, 20th-Century Poetry, 20th-Century British Novel, Introduction to Literature, Shakespeare, and Public Speaking, as well as various survey courses in British, American, and World Literature. He currently teaches Crime Fiction, Comics, and academic writing at Oxford College of Emory University where his wife, Dr. Adriane Ivey, also teaches English. They live with their two young children outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Read Brad's series on HOW TO READ COMICS.

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