There's perhaps no genre I'm more enamored with than the globe-trotting adventure team. It taps into that secret hope that if you're well-read enough and unreasonably wealthy you can place your finger on the secret pulse of the world and escape the environment that eakes thrills from celebrity gossip for one of ancient mysticism and super-science. 'Mystery Society' would seem perfect for me, the story of two hipster bookstore owners who magically come into a seemingly bottomless fortune that they use to play supernatural Scooby-Doo. However, I'm disappointed to report it does nothing for me. The story concerns Nick and Anastasia, a pair of paranormal enthusiasts who after mysteriously coming into an insane amount of money decide to use it to buy secret lairs, spy planes, and fund a neverending quest to investigate the world's ample mysteries; sort of a non-government funded version of the team from 'Planetary'. While initially appearing to be a story happening well into our character's careers, as we first meet Nick as a suave celebrity criminal on his way to maximum security prison, it's actually the first adventure, with Nick and Anastasia quickly assembling a team out of various supernatural misfits. There's an undead woman who calls herself Secret Skull, a pair of psychic twins probably intentionally reminiscent of the hallway ghosts from 'The Shining', and the brain of Jules Verne in a steampunk cybernetic suit. While a great set up, two nerds suddenly given the tools to realize their silliest dreams of excitement and intrigue, the book instead drops us in with two characters who somehow already possess the skills and temperament to do things like casually break into Area 51. Nick and Anastasia aren't particularly charming either, self-assured to breaching smug in the face of a full on military manhunt. They never seem to be in any real danger at any point of the book, even in situations where there is no good reason for them not to be shot on spot, something that becomes even more exaggerated when the psychic twins are revealed to have Get Out of Jail Free cards as superpowers. There's no learning curve for these two, and the final resolution of the story is frustratingly lacking in obstacles.
Where exactly is the Mystery as well? There's a subplot involving Secret Skull and Jules Verne investigating the theft of Edgar Allen Poe's skull, but there's no investigation. The characters talk to one person, ID the perp from that, and then chase them. They even keep the skull leaving to question what justice they were actually serving. This complaint wouldn't be particularly valid if 'Mystery Society' was an ongoing series, but it's a miniseries meaning the further adventures of the group aren't guaranteed or even necessarily intended. It doesn't feel like a miniseries because it sets up more than it delivers on, begging to question why of all stories to tell about the group they settled on this one. There's a follow-up short story that seems to have a better grip on the idea, but suffers from the shaky creativity that runs through the mini, feeling like a watered down version of dozens of ideas 'Hellboy' and 'League of Extraordinary Gentlemen' (not to mention their multitude of copycats) have already accomplished batter. There's even mild graphic design hints of 'Umbrella Academy', drawing other comparisons to the content.
Fiona Staples of 'Saga' fame did the art, actually leapfrogging from this book to 'Saga' as writer Niles recommended her to his friend Brian K. Vaughn. She's drastically improved as an artist, as her work on 'Mystery Society' is good but not as engaging and sensitive as it is in 'Saga', the muted somber tones of this book being a stark contrast to the vibrant colors and energy of her later work.
I may sound harsh, but it's only because I was intrigued by it at first. I've never liked Steve Niles' writing and I'd hoped this book would turn me around on that point, and there's nothing wrong with the great premise. It's the execution, a kitchen sink mish-mash of better stories and a sense of grasping imagination that left me unmoved, and in places even hoping the military might win so that our self-satisfied heroes might be taught a lesson in dramatic humility. That said, now that the origin is out-of-the-way there's nothing preventing future installments of the 'Mystery Society' to be improvements, zipping around the world in search of occult adventure. It's just a pity their first journey together had to be so ill-advised.
Writer: Steve Niles Artists: Fiona Staples, Andrew Ritchie Publisher: IDW Publishing Price: $27.99 Release Date: 10/2/13