‘Mystery Girl’ #1 Solves The Mystery Of How To Make A Great First Issue [Review]
There aren't a whole lot of things I love seeing in comics more than a good high concept, and Paul Tobin, Alberto Albuquerque and Marissa Louise's Mystery Girl has one of the best premises I've seen in a long time. The basic idea is more than just a girl who solves mysteries; this is a girl who has already solved every mystery the second she hears about it, for reasons she doesn't even understand herself. That's the kind of hook that grabs your attention and refuses to let go.
But it's also the kind of hook that sets up a lot of expectations. It's such a simple, adaptable idea that there are a million places to go with it, and if Tobin, Albuquerque and Louise didn't stick the landing on the finished product, then the disappointment that they had such a great premise and did't do something amazing with it would've been every bit as intense as the excitement of hearing that idea to begin with. Fortunately, that's not a problem --- unsurprisingly, they've put out a first issue that's every bit as good as you want it to be.
As you might expect from a first issue, most of Mystery Girl #1 is taken up with exploring that high concept, showing Trine Hampstead using her gift --- if that's the right word, because despite being pretty amazing, this is the type of book where it doesn't quite feel right calling it a super-power --- to answer all the questions presented to her by her various clients. All that stuff with the missing woolly mammoth and the trip to Siberia doesn't show up until fifteen pages in, and even after that, there's still plenty of setup to go through about Trine's relationships with the people around her.
But I might be getting ahead of myself here.
The trick to the issue is that it goes through a lot of those mysteries, sometimes only within the span of a single panel, without letting it overstay its welcome. There's a kind of repetition here that's necessary, and even demanded from the reader --- from the moment you hear about the concept behind this book, even if it's just the quick paragraph on the inside front cover, you want to see Trine solving those mysteries and answering those otherwise unanswerable questions. And that's the first thing the book delivers.
But it does so in a way that deals with that repetition before it becomes a problem. It's not just that there are different problems to solve, although there's enough variety to make an entire montage work with quick shots of various answers, although that's definitely a plus. If nothing else, that gets the more traditional private detective questions --- the "Who committed this murder?" and "What's with this guy who's leaving me huge tips at work?" type stuff --- out of the way early. That's just a side benefit.
The real great thing about it is that it allows Tobin and Albuquerque to introduce their main character in contrast to the usual private detective tropes. Our initial look at her is defined in opposition to what we expect from a detective story, which makes perfect sense. Trine is, after all, a detective who already has all the answers and never actually needs to go looking for clues, and once you strip that away, it opens up a lot of possibilities. Like, say, taking away the office, too.
The visual of Trine setting up shop on the sidewalk with a rug, a chalkboard and a pet bird in a cage hanging from a tree is pretty great just on its own, and it's only one of several that Albuquerque pulls off over the course of the issue. There's an animated quality to the faces in the strictest sense of the word that he needs to bring to the table to sell the premise, and more than that, to make Trine someone that readers can relate to. With the wrong facial expressions, she could easily come off as smug and smarmy about dispensing her knowledge to everyone else in the book, but she never does. Instead, the "I know" comes off as friendly and maybe a little weary.
But getting back to her sidewalk "office," it's even better as a metaphor for how much of what you expect from a detective story once you cut out all that pesky investigation. The colorful characters are still there, and there actually is a mystery at the core of the story that Trine doesn't have the answer to --- another big piece of the hook is that she knows everything except the secret of her own past. And, as is so often the case with detective stories, there's one big element right there at the start: A murder.
Even then, there's not much of a mystery behind it --- the murderer in question explains not only his motive, but also several other potential motives that might have led him to the same crime, and he doesn't seem all that bothered about keeping things a secret, either. And the fact that Trine, despite her boundless knowledge of... well, everything, doesn't realize that she's in his sights adds an instant level of danger to the story that makes it all work.
It's an incredibly promising start, and by the time the story shifts into the stuff about wooly mammoths and Trine's decision to get out of her comfort zone and go see one of her answers for herself, it feels like it's earned the move to an entirely different spin on a premise that it just introduced a dozen pages before. And that's what makes it such a great first issue --- it takes those ideas and does exactly what you want from them, just enough to satisfy the curiosity that you're coming in with before it takes it in an entirely different direction. The trip to go find the frozen mammoth is something that feels like it should probably be the second Mystery Girl story, but the book moves so fast and so well that it all comes together beautifully.
Mystery Girl #1 is out on Wednesday, December 2.