Wednesday, January 13, 2021

House of the Black Spot by Ben Sears

Now, I tagged this book as "You Know, For Kids," but I don't think it was published for kids -- it's from the small comics-focused press Koyama [1] and I think they just do comics in general. But it's appropriate for kids of most ages, and it's a more modern adventure story than many I've seen in comics (see my recent post on another Tintin omnibus). So that's worth flagging.

Of course, on the other hand, I say "more modern" when House of the Black Spot reads an awful lot like a '70s Scooby-Doo episode translated into comics with a new cast. (That's not a complaint: figuring out skullduggery and making things better is a solid plot, and a great one for younger readers.)

This is, as far as I can recall, the first time I've ever seen the comics work of Ben Sears. I got this book because it was inexpensive to begin with and there was a good sale at my "local comics shop." [2] And it seems to be the fourth in the "Double+" series, about a crime-fighting duo, the boy (?) Plus Man and the flying robot Hank -- they have a day-job delivering things (groceries at the beginning of this book, I suspect other things in other books), but clearly also are "nosy kids" when occasion warrants.

Sears' world is mildly SFnal; robots like Hank seem to be a minority group -- there are some of them, but not a lot, and they have families rather than coming from an assembly line somewhere. But otherwise the world is basically "now," or maybe slightly historical, with computers and airplanes but no cellphones. 

Hank has to go back to Gear Town, where he grew up, when his uncle Bill (who raised him) dies. Plus Man goes with him as support, and, at the reading of the will, they're told (along with a motley crew of other family and friends) that Bill was murdered, that his estate (physical) will be sealed until the crime is solved by one of them, and that his estate (financial) will go to the person who solves the crime.

Everyone assumes that the two mean real-estate developers, who were buying land out from under Bill even before his death, are responsible -- but they seem too ineffectual and frankly incapable of murder, and there's also the matter of proving anything. So Plus Man and Hank investigate the house and grounds, digging into papers, finding secret passageways, having long conversations with people friendly and not, and getting captured by what seems to be the ghost of a long-dead evil industrialist -- the usual stuff.

In the end, the crime is solved, and a mask metaphorically pulled off a metaphorical Old Man Jenkins, who curses the Double+ duo for foiling the fiendish plot.

Sears draws this with thin lines outlining rounded, plump objects -- his people have big faces, and other things are softly boxy, with round corners and a sense of cartoon solidity. The coloring tends to the bright for backgrounds but more subdued for figures and scenery; it's a friendly, subtly happy look.

House of the Black Spot was fun: I enjoyed it enough to think about checking out the other Double+ books. I went into it with no real expectations -- the book has no blurb on it, except for a quote from Charles Forsman [3] -- but it is somewhere in a very broad territory between Tintin and the Scooby gang.

[1] Which I think is mostly or entirely one woman named Annie Koyama. And that's pretty impressive, since this book is my first Koyama title and it's well-made and nicely designed.

[2] It was local to my office when I worked in NYC in the mid-90s, and I might have shopped there a couple of times then. It was local to my bus station (the ugly and unpleasant Port Authority) for a subsequent decade, and became my regular shop somewhere in there. And it was still pretty close to Penn Station once I started using trains to get into NYC much of the time. But it's never been "local" in any normal sense of the word.

[3] Which, incidentally, amused me. It's credited to him with "(TEOTFW, I Am Not Okay With This)" afterwards, which is actually the titles of his two major books to date (first is the thing also known as The End of the Fucking World), but looks like a parenthetical comment with some baroque Internet initialism leading it off.

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