Hardy Boys #14: Haley Danelle’s Top Eight original graphic novel
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Artist: Paulo Henrique Marcondes
Colors: Laurie E. Smith
Letters: Mark Lerer
Editor: Jim Salicrup
Price: $7.95 US/$8.95 CAN
Like many boys, I grew up on Franklin W. Dixon’s series of Hardy Boys mystery novels for young readers. I didn’t have a complete collection, but I had a bookshelf full of them. I rather enjoyed them, and my parents were thrilled that I read them, as they had a hard time getting me to read anything other than comics. Papercutz has purported to update the Hardy Boys concept for the 21st century, retooling them with a manga look and more modern sensibilities. The thing is, this “Undercover Brothers” (yes, that the subtitle for these books) series of graphic novels doesn’t really update the well-known characters; it completely reshapes them into something pretty unfamiliar. While they’re still teen sleuths, they’re not amateurs anymore. Associated with a secret crime-fighting organization and armed with gadgets that James Bond would covet, these Hardy Boys seems more like super-spies or super-heroes than down-to-earth, well-meaning sons of a law-enforcement officer. To make matters worse, the mystery the characters set out to solve isn’t really a whodunit, as the answer is revealed rather than deduced.
After Joe Hardy saves dozens of lives with a triumphant performance on a dancing video game, a teenage social butterfly “hires” the Hardy Boys to track down her missing pals, all her BFFs from real life and her online social network. As the intrepid teens investigate the disappearances, they find themselves the targets of an unseen assailant, determined to dissuade them from their course of action.
Paulo Henrique Marcondes’s artwork is this graphic novella’s greatest strength. His work here is reminiscent of the styles of such Ameri-manga artists as Adam (Empowered) Warren and Rick (Arsenal) Mays. Though the female characters are depicted as being too cute while also a little sexualized (as often happens with manga-style fare), the visuals are pretty satisfying overall. Maricondes manages to capture the characters’ youth clearly, and there’s a certain kid-next-door quality to them that’s always been a part of the Hardy Boys’ world. It’s clear that Papercutz has mandated a manga look for this series, but unfortunately, it doesn’t seem as though Marcondes has landed the assignment for all volumes. The preview of the 15th graphic novel (in the back of this book) is clearly rendered by another artist, and preview material on the publisher’s website is also obviously the work of another still.
I was surprised to see that one-time Marvel stalwart writer Scott Lobdell was at the helm of this unusual project. This is definitely a departure from the X-Men titles. I was never a big fan of Lobdell’s work on those books, but that stemmed more from a disinterest in the characters and the typical never-ending plot that was part and parcel of that property. Still, even the mutant mayhem he wrote in the 1990s made a lot more sense and was more believable than the plotting in this Hardy Boys book. For example, Joe and Frank are hired by a random girl in a high-tech treehouse who just happens to know of their secret lives as agents of an elite teen crime-fighting force, and then that catalyst for the main plot never makes another appearance. To describe the plotting as awkward would be far too kind. Furthermore, given the real-world tech that the boys could use to solve mysteries, it seems weird that they’d long for impossibly convenient and implausible gadgets for their adventures.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing of them all is that the title characters don’t solve the mystery. They follow clues from point A to B to C, but there’s never a deduction about who commits the crimes and why. It’s all revealed at the end by the perpetrator, who never makes an appearance before that moment. The Hardy Boys stories I remember from my youth were whodunits. Joe and Frank would put the pieces together, identify their suspects and crack the case on their own. In this story, they’re little more than mice running a maze. 4/10