It's incredibly unfair to compare any monthly comic in 2020 to Giant Days—a series that cast a very long (and often delightfully silly) shadow over award shows and many readers' hearts for the better part of a decade as one of the most critically-acclaimed and endearing series in modern memory. However, that comparison is unavoidable when the series' writer John Allison and primary artist Max Sarin re-team for a new comic from Boom Studios: Wicked Things. It should be a strength that the debut issue strikes a similar tone in artstyle, humor, and no-nonsense pacing, and it is. Wicked Things #1 is an excellent debut and a comic I want to recommend, but it's a recommendation that comes with an unfortunately necessary asterisk that readers would be well served by checking their expectations at the cover.
Wicked Things toys with the teen detective concept, focusing on Charlotte Grote as a former teen sleuth ready to make the transition into adulthood (and Oxford University). The first issue introduces readers to Charlotte and her best friend Claire as they travel to an international award show where Lottie's unheralded talents might finally receive some recognition. This applies a smart new coat of paint on one of the most well worn genres in young adult fiction, managing to enjoy being a teen detective story and poking fun at its many familiar tropes. Readers would be well served by avoiding the solicit for this issue, though, as it not only summarizes the entirety of this comic, but offers plot points that aren't even hinted at in these pages.
Perhaps the greatest weakness of this narrative in comparison to Giant Days is that it is easily read as genre fare. The story is driven primarily by the mystery and, to a lesser degree, humor. Learning the cast of characters is about meeting possible suspects more than recognizable human beings. Familiarizing yourself with the setting is more about spying clues than identifying with a shared experience or moment in time. Whereas Knives Out used a similar model to examine class divides in America, Wicked Things seems to be mostly about telling a teen detective story.
The first issue tells that story well. All of the characters are distinctive, even if only Lottie, Claire, and Lottie's mother offer more than a single, exaggerated trait for identification. Other detectives and hangers on are great in a "you love to hate 'em" sort of way, and the trio of individuals focused around Lottie are the sort of people you genuinely love. Given a compelling mystery and threat to Lottie's barely begun future, there's plenty of reasons to keep reading.
It can't be understated how much humanity (and thus reason to care about these events) is found in how Lottie and her nearest and dearest are depicted. Max Sarin's character designs remain truly exceptional creations. Lottie's personality and style greet readers in the very first panel and, as she is put through her emotional paces in a mother-daughter conversation, display an incredible flexibility in expressing the turmoil and multi-faceted nature of being both a teen and detective. Each expression displayed in a close up panel is perfectly communicative, whether it's illustrating impatient skepticism or an overabundance of joy.
Sarin's deft cartooning makes each page a joy unto itself. Conversations are enhanced tremendously by a back-and-forth that can be read without dialogue. The handful of crowd scenes and action sequences are all filled with bodies in action, expressing feelings, social standing, and so much more, even when filling backgrounds. They invite readers back for multiple sessions with the same story as well, offering plenty of details and inspired moments to revel in, even after the formula for this first issue has been understood. All of this precision enhances the mystery delivered in Wicked Things #1 as well, with facial acting so precise that readers can begin to theorize about motives as well as with as they might in an adeptly cast mystery on film.
The emotional resonance found from the very start of Giant Days may not be present in the pages of Wicked Things #1, but the storytelling excellence that made its predecessor a must-read fount of humor and fun has not been lost. This debut serves up a more than serviceable premise that is enhanced tremendously by Sarin's skills, ranging from adept page layouts to perfectly articulated characters. The way in which this story is told invites readers to return to these pages after flipping the final one, and offers a lot of fun to be had in appreciating how what we already know is being told. Wicked Things doesn't appear interested in reinventing the model of the teen detective story, but it's certainly ready to tell that familiar mode of story as well as comics can deliver it.
Published by Boom Studios
On March 18, 2020
Written by John Allison
Art by Max Sarin
Colors by Whitney Cogar
Letters by Jim Campbell
Cover by Max Sarin