Review: Mystery in Space Volume 1 trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Mystery in Space Volume 1, which stars both Captain Comet and The Weird, is a mystery set in space. And it's weird. And lest you think at this point I'm just restating the obvious, let me say that in comparison to Tales of the Unexpected--another DC standby title re-released as a mini-series after Infinite Crisis much the same as Mystery in Space--Mystery is such a far superior comic (than Tales' Spectre feature, at least), and it's mystery and weirdness make for a wonderful, readable mix. Mystery is a prime example of the power of the mini-series, taking two forgotten DC characters and making them for a short time eminently follow-able.

Jim Starlin does a lot of re-casting of Captain Comet at the beginning of this series (in part because, according to this interview, he initially thought he'd be working with Adam Strange. Comet's powers are subtly different from what they were before, and Starlin introduces new supporting case (including, no kidding, a talking bulldog). The result is a story about your generic swashbuckling space hero, kind of like an Adam Strange with telepathic abilities. That's fine with me; I never had a connection to Captain Comet as a character, and Starlin's new Comet is brash and bold without being over-the-top; Comet's telepathic powers allow the character just the right amount of thinking man's introspection.

It's in the Weird back-up feature that Starlin's work really shines. The Weird is a Stranger in a Strange Land-type character that approaches every situation with an alien's bemused detachment; the Weird himself is neither stupid nor incapable, he's just ... weird. Starlin wastes little time before injecting the Weird section with trippy, psychedelic splash pages--the whole thing feels like a throwback to comics of the 1960s, but Starlin's choice to set the Weird sequences in synch with the Comet tale gives the back-up stories necessary relevance.

There's a lot of narration (what used to be thought balloons) in Mystery in Space, the kind of thing that helped to ruin Hawkgirl: The Maw (read our review here), but it works in Mystery. In part, this is because Comet and Weird are both observers in their own stories, and their thought processes add to the building of the characters. Second, Starlin avoids Bill Willingham's danger in Shadowpact: The Pentacle Plot of letting the narration echo what the characters are already doing. By having the characters carry on mental conversations in addition to their action, Starlin has created an action-epic with a surprisingly lot to read!

Finally, Starlin sets Mystery in Space at the Hardcore Station he created in a series by the same time, and includes characters from that series. I haven't read it, believing at the time it was just a "throw-away" mini-series guest-starring the JLA. Which it still is, really, but given that Hardcore Station has shown up a time or two since then, and how much I enjoyed Starlin's writing on this title, I think I'd be willing to buy a collection of the mini. (Hey, DC!)

[Contains full covers. Trade Paperback Slugfest: Mystery in Space is good ... but not good enough to beat Green Lantern. Hal Jordan remains ... Wanted!]
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