New Comics Week 3/8/16: In Which I Relive My Childhood With The Hardy Boys and R.L. Stein

For folks of a certain age (I’m 32), there may be no writer more responsible for creating horror fans than R.L. Stein. Stein, who kind of fell backwards into it, created the Goosebumps and Fear Street books series which ran the gamut from ghosts to aliens to mad scientists to serial killers and most memorably evil ventriloquist dummies. So of course when Marvel announced that Stein would be writing a new Man-Thing series, I was sold. I expected a pretty straight-ahead horror yarn from Stein and thought that’s what I was getting for the first few pages of the book. It initially reads like it’s an issue straight from the 70’s with lots of thought bubbles and overwrought narration before taking a hard turn to the meta when it’s revealed that Man-Thing, having regained his Ted Sallis mind and personality and is working in Hollywood as a movie monster, though demand for his services is waning. It’s strange and it’s funny and when the hook of the story hits towards the end, it works like a charm. But not only do we get a genuinely exciting new take on one of the strangest characters in Marvel’s stable, Stein also provides a one-off backup with art from Daniel Warren Johnson reminiscent of the old EC murder-morality tales. This is an all-around winner and one of the best things that Marvel has put out in a while.

I will admit that I scoffed heartily at Dynamite announcing a Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys comic, especially one that took the clean-cut, all-American young sleuths and gave them the gritty reboot treatment. Then, I got a look at the cover, which is honestly one of my favorite covers of all time. Then after reading the issue, I became a believer. Writer Anthony Del Col and artist Werther Dell’Edra have done an all around excellent job in making an immediately intriguing noir that updates classic characters without disrespecting their history. The story, which sees Nancy Drew helping the Hardys clear their name when they’re accused of murdering their disgraced-cop father, feels right for the characters in a Riverdale (aka SexyMurderArchie) kind of way- dark, but not too dark. Dell’Edra’s art is firmly in the Sean Phillips/Francesco Francavilla school, which gives the town of Bayport and it’s residents (including Tom Swift!!!) the perfect feel for the story. So dust off your magnifying glass and get ready to search for hidden passages because this is the mystery you’ve been waiting for.

Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #16 shines a spotlight on Guy Gardner and packs a real punch, both physically and emotionally. The issue mostly follows Guy as he goes after Akillo, a Yellow Lantern and challenges him to a fight with no rings. Interspersed with what is honestly the most brutal and bloody fist fight I’ve ever seen in a DC superhero comic are flashbacks to Guy’s childhood with his alcoholic abusive father. Guy is often used as a joke and that’s okay because he makes a great punchline, but this harrowing look at the man behind the bowl-cut is a welcome bit of character work.

Action Comics #975 reveals the true identity of the powerless ‘Clark Kent’ who’s been running around since the death of the Nu52 Superman and boy is it a doozy. I’ve saved this one for last because I’m totally gonna spoil it. Are you ready? Okay, here it goes- It’s Mxyzptlk! After escaping the mysterious prison of Mr. Oz (where Doomsday and Tim Drake remain captive), Mxy made his way to earth and used his magic to convince himself he was Clark and had no powers as to hide from Oz. The art is stunning, with Doug Mahnke providing some killer splashes as Mxy transforms into several of Superman’s greatest villains. The real treat here is the backup from Paul Dini and Ian Churchill which sees Mxyzptlk explaining his relationship to Superman to a captive Jon and slyly confirming the DCAU and Lego worlds as part of the multiverse.

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