“Hobtown Mystery Stories: The Case of the Missing Men”

By | April 23rd, 2024
Posted in Reviews | % Comments

I almost hesitate to write a review of Hobtown Mystery Stories: The Case of the Missing Men, as it’s difficult to convey how immersive and intense it becomes for the reader. It’s a teen investigative story with supernatural elements but it’s far more off-kilter than Buffy the Vampire Slayer or, going back to an even earlier influence, Nancy Drew. (The last obviously inspired the cover.)

Cover by Alexander Forbes

Written by Kris Bertin
Illustrated and Lettered by Alexander Forbes
Colored by Jason Fischer-Kouhi

Welcome to Hobtown, a charmingly bleak village (Population: 2,006) and an easy place to get bored if you don’t make your own fun.

Hobtown Regional High’s top girl, Dana Nance, runs the Teen Detective Club—a registered after-school program that makes it their business to investigate each and every one of their town’s bizarre occurrences including pagan secret societies, psychic assaults, and possible “wee man” sightings. Their small world of missing pets and shed fires is turned upside down when real-life kid adventurer and globetrotter Sam Finch comes to town and enlists them in their first real case: the search for his missing father. Something strange is going on, and no one in Hobtown will talk about it. It turns out Sam’s dad is the sixth man to go missing this year. The rot runs deep in Hobtown, and it’s up to the teen detectives and associates to stay alive long enough to crack the Case of the Missing Men!

Childhood friends Kris Bertin and Alexander Forbes have built a truly unique and discrete universe in Hobtown—an exploration of small town identity drawing from the world of pulp, filtered through a lens of esoteric spirituality, skewed genre tropes, deft character work, and an incredible eye for detail.

The publicity blurb for The Case of the Missing Men compares it to Twin Peaks and that is close to the sensibility but the depth of the bond between the characters adds a warmth that can be lacking from David Lynch’s work. The comic it most reminded me of in tone is Sandman Mystery Theatre, with Forbes’ artwork reminds me strongly of Guy Davis’ work. People are rendered a bit bizarre, facial features can be muddy or exaggerated, especially the villains. There’s gore but it’s of the noir-style variety, rather than blood splashed all over the page.

The other element that reminds me of SMT is the “good people attempting to find hope and friendship in a bizarre situation” element. SMT is always an adult story, and this book is not, as it especially shies away from any sexual violence, but the leads are lost in the dark world around them, clinging to each other to find friendship and the hope of finding some justice.

The plot is a good, strong mystery setup. It begins with a man accosted in a small town by figures in yellow raincoats and masks made of paper plates. It’s eerie and disturbing. He vanishes, creating the initial problem our detectives need to solve. Sam, the teen son of the missing man, is searching for his missing father. He’s angry, belligerent, a little bit arrogant but hurting inside because no one will believe or help him. He reluctantly accepts the help of the teen detectives. They’re an already tight group of four: Dana, Pauline, Brennen, and Denny. Dana is the lead detective (think Nancy Drew), Pauline has supernatural hunches about what might or has happened, Brennen is the jock, and Denny is the emotional one. It took some time reading the story for me to sort out the characters but they unfold nicely as the story goes along.

What Sam and the others quickly discover is the town has a secret, that murders happen with cyclical regularity over the years, and that the reason for this is being kept from them. Some adults want to protect them. Others want to stop them in any way possible. It is not easy to know the difference.

What they thought was originally a case about a missing man turns into uncovering the dark heart of the small town.

Four of the first five pages are wordless and convey the tone perfectly, with the use of dark against light, with the yellow raincoats and a fire set against the night, and with the close-up of the otherworldly faces of the perpetrators. Other moments can be smaller, such as a scene in a diner where Sam finally accepts some help. it ends with the reflection of the characters in the diner window. The artwork pulls the reader into the story and won’t let go. This volume is over 300 pages and I had to finish it in one sitting.

Continued below

A couple of brief narrative choices didn’t work for me. Twice, the story stops at a cliffhanger and instead of the next section resolving the cliffhanger, it pivots to witnesses who recount what happens next first, then shows our characters. That slowed down the pacing for me, though the moments were short.

The other is a minor issue with the ending. While the teens know the truth of what happens to the missing men and they confront the villain, the closure is less than complete. This is a long novel, over 300 pages, and I hoped everything would be resolved at the end. Instead, the mystery will continue onward.

Overall, it’s an impressive and creative work. It will likely cast the same spell on readers as it did on me.

//TAGS | Original Graphic Novel

Corrina Lawson

Corrina Lawson is a writer, mom, geek, and superhero with the power of multitasking. She's an award-winning newspaper reporter, a former contributor to the late lamented B&N SF/F blog, and the author of ten fiction novels combining romance, adventure, and fantasy.


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