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I really enjoyed this title and couldn't put it down once I started. It pays more than a little homage to mid century modern aesthetics, humor, dialogue, and setting (from the quirky TV Avengers to jingoistic 50s sci fi American gung ho military) but does so in a way that makes for a great story. To do so takes a special touch by both the storywriter and illustrator; both get it pitch perfect for me - fun but not silly, unique but not weird.
Nick and Anastasia own a failing mysteries bookstore and dream about what they would do if they had money to burn - and sure enough, they win the lottery and start the Mystery Society. This includes creating a secret home base, recruiting others (and those side characters are just as quirky and interesting!), and solving two major mystery arcs. The story is non linear and follows both the two main characters and two side characters as they solve their mysteries/challenges. Through it all, I kept having great memories of the late-1960s/early-1970s Bond with his wonderful gadgets and exotic locales (but without the annoying culture clash commentary). The dialogue was humorous but also with great pathos - we really got a sense of the characters and their dispositions. Heck, I even wanted to know more about the two side characters, Secret Skull and Verne (yes, THAT J. Verne), since their personalities were also so well defined. I also really appreciated that the author gave the illustrator room to create the story without an overabundance of thought bubbles. I also really liked the soft 1960s watercolor palette of the artwork - really beautiful and well done.
Honestly, I enjoyed just letting the tale unfold and the characters 'do their thing' without needing words to do so. In all, the combination of great storytelling, interesting characters, and superb illustrations make this a great read. It was great to have a graphic novel about mysteries that doesn't take itself too seriously but also keeps the tone just right.
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The only way to describe Steve Niles and Fiona Staples' 2010 series Mystery Society, which was collected into a trade paperback in December 2010, is as a truly poststructuralist Steed and Ms. Peel for contemporary audiences. Blending cool with sexy and quirky, as well as bizarre and brazen, Mystery Society takes a cue from Grant Morrison's The Invisibles, Matt Fraction's Casanova, and Gerard Way's The Umbrella Academy in its approach to an unfolding narrative and story development, not insulting the reader with regurgitated and sometimes formulaic structures of story creation.
As with the aforementioned titles, Mystery Society is a book that is not for everyone. Transporting Nick and Nora Charles from either the pages of Dashiell Hammett's Thin Man novel or its varied cinematic versions and repackaging it for modern readers is a difficult task. Niles and Staples' Nick Hammond and Anastasia Collins also owe a debt to elements of Mr. and Mrs. Smith. In fact, it's difficult to read Mystery Society without forging these references to recognizable portraits from the silver screen. Teachers might consider the literary possibilities of Mystery Society in developing comparative class assignments between the graphic novel and these Hollywood precursors. What makes Mystery Society succeed as more than a simple adaptation though is Niles' prose and Staples' digital pencils.
Niles's approach with Mystery Society is a risky one. The book reads as if it is the second or third installment in an ongoing series nobody has read. Niles is not beholden to long-winded expository on character origins and histories. He references other adventures and encounters the heroes have had throughout the book.Read more ›
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Written originally for the Fantasy Literature review website Fanboy Friday! Comic Book and Graphic Novel Review Column
Mystery Society by Steve Niles (writer) and Fiona Staples (artist)
If 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 The 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.Read more ›
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Steve Niles (born June 21, 1965) is an American comic book author and novelist, known for works such as 30 Days of Night, Criminal Macabre, Simon Dark, Mystery Society and Batman: Gotham County Line.
He is credited among other contemporary writers as bringing horror comics back to prominence, authoring such works as 30 Days of Night, its sequel, Dark Days (IDW Publishing), and Criminal Macabre (Dark Horse Comics) with frequent artist collaborator Ben Templesmith.