By Trina Robbins and Tyler Page
Lerner Publishing/Graphic Universe; $6.95
Meet the Chicagoland Detective Agency: Megan, tween goth who composes haiku out-loud on the spot, whenever she’s inspired; Raf, teenage genius and part-time employee of his parents’ pet food store; and Bradley, a talking dog. There’s no case too small or too weird for these kids, as the adventures from earlier volumes in this series of standalone graphic novel–well, graphic chapter books by writer Trina Robbins and and artist Tyler Page evidence.
In the first four books, they dealt with the brain-drained, zombie like students of Stepford Academy, an organ-stealing mummy, a mysterious pack of dogs that appear once a month and the haunted plumbing in a lavatory at prestigious all-girls school. In the fifth volume of the series, The Bark in Space, our trio of heroes face their most out-there challenge so far: Alien visitors that just so happen to look exactly like earth dogs.
The weirdness starts when Raf tries to develop an iDog2 app for his Raf-pod, which is meant to translate dog barks into English. It doesn’t work on Earth dogs, but it works fine on translating the yips, yaps and barks of the Fnarfians, the bi-pedal alien dogs who have come to Earth and are now desperately searching for their missing princess, who has shed her royal robes, got down on all-fours and gone native.
It’s up to our heroes, and a love-struck Earth dog, to track her down, save her from the clutches of an evil scientist and try to convince Bradley he belongs with them, rather than on a far-off planet full of hyper-intelligent, upright dog-people.
Robbins’ characters are sharply written. They’re more a collection of quirks than deep characters with rich personal lives, but they’re also the heroes of a silly kids comics series, so that’s not exactly the worst thing in the world. They contrast with one another, and the other minor characters they encounter, strongly, giving their interactions a dynamic flow.
Page’s artwork has a nice, refreshing homemade feel to it, a vibe no doubt helped along by the fact that it appears in black and white. There’s a highly polished, professional amateur look to it, like the work of a talented mini-comics or self-published creator. His design style tends to fall somewhere between an Archie Comics level of realism and a Cartoon Network original program level of abstraction. He’s quite proficient on mixing the down-to-earth actions of the human characters with bizarre elements like Victorian ghosts that live in drinking fountains and bathroom sinks (as in #4’s The Big Flush) or space-suit wearing dogs that fly around in a flying saucer.
The Bradley character is probably the perfect distillation of this particular facility of Page’s: He’s drawn like a normal dog, his wide range of facial expressions signaling his greater intelligence and speaking ability.
Blending mystery, comedy and weirdness into a well-made, appealing package, it doesn’t take much of a detective to figure out why kids might find this series particularly appealing.