The Middle Ground #52 | Mystery machine

It seems that, when I wasn't paying attention, Oni Press slowly cornered the market on female detective comics. I'm sure I've talking about my love of Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth's amazing Stumptown before (And in case I haven't: It's an impressive book, and all the better as a collection, where the threads and plots come together more gracefully, without the break in reading that single issues impose. If you haven't bought it, but like crime fiction? You really, really should fix that as soon as possible), but it took a library visit of all things to discover the publisher's Amy Devlin mysteries.

Written by Christina Weir and Nunzio Defillipis - known to mainstream fans as New Mutants and New X-Men writers, most likely, although they've worked on a lot of different things together, including some Arliss and Kim Possible for television, and there aren't many who can claim both of those shows on their resume - and drawn by Christopher Mitten (the first volume, Past Lies) and Dove McHargue with Kate Kasenow (All Saints Day, the second volume; there's a third apparently coming next year), the Amy Devlin books are smart, funny and remarkably fast little detective books that let Weir and Defillipis show off their chops in a way that mixes the standalone, fast-hook nature of television writing with a great understanding of the comic medium, all brought together in a perfect format - done-in-one black and white graphic novels.

It's a series that totally flew under my radar (Apparently, Past Lies and All Saints Day both debuted last year), but the kind of thing that should be used as a masterclass for the perfect introductory comic for new readers to the medium - There's no confusing continuity or off-putting hyper-reality (superpowers, supernatural magic or science-fiction) to explain to newcomers, and the pages are not only clearly designed and easy to follow, but stylish, as well. Does that sound like an odd thing to say? It's just that... there aren't a lot of comic artists these days who can make their work both easy to understand and easy on the eye, I think; one inevitably gets sacrificed for the other, but the Devlin books - and especially Past Lies, because Mitten is one of the most underrated artists in comics these days, if y'ask me - manage it. Lies, in particular, is a package that you can imagine giving to someone who likes detective stories but hasn't read any comics previously, and they'd just get it right away. It's just that good, in that way - Familiar enough in terms of genre conventions to get over the initial "What is going on?" confusion, but well-done and attractive enough to keep the reader hooked once they get what's going on.

It's pulpy, of course, and not for everyone - There are undoubtedly those who'd turn their noses up at the denouement of either story, finding them ridiculous or unrealistic, but I feel the books are true to their forebears, and anyone who enjoys, say, Castle or the like on a regular basis should have no problem with either story - but for me, it just took the first book for me to become not only a believer, but an evangelist. Comics need more books like these, and more comic fans should know about them in order to make that happen.

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