Monday, August 14, 2006

The Scrapyard Detectives #3

The Scrapyard Detectives #3, July 2006, Smiles for Diversity
writer: Jesse Leon McCann
penciller & colorist: Bill Galvin
inker: Robert Hawkins
letterer: Dave Lanphear
creators: Bill Gavin and Chad Denton

Comic books are incredibly educational. Comic books have introduced us to the uncanny sciences of gamma rays and zeta beams. Comic books have taught us how to build web-shooters and lunar watchtowers. Comic books have shown us how accessorize with green jewelry or blue fur. Comic books have warned us of the dangers of time travel, black magic, cloning, and now, thanks to the Scrapyard Detectives, prejudice. What would we have done without them?

When I began yesterday’s post, I didn’t intend to kick off a two day analysis on the nature of specialty promotional comics, but when I realized that The Scrapyard Detectives were just a few issues below the Tandy Computer Whiz Kids in my stack of finds from the Comic Con, I embraced the opportunity. See, despite the twenty-one years between them, both comics have a lot in common: both feature investigative youth utilizing cutting edge technology in an adventure of moral fortitude and righteous. Also, and more importantly for the sake of this review, both comics were published by a special interest group that is using the graphic medium to market their cause to kids. In yesterday’s case, Radio Shack used the Whiz Kids to promote Tandy Computer products. Today, the Diversity Foundation used the Scrapyard Detectives to promote equality and acceptance. Which is more enduring?

I will confess, I have read The Scrapyard Detectives before. Issues one and two were available at the Comic Con last year, and I scored a small stack of each for the kids at work. I enjoyed them, actually. The art wasn’t jaw dropping but the inking was solid, achieving a traditional style that was highly complemented by the issues’ crisp, contemporary coloring. The stories weren’t sappy or sloppy, but carefully constructing to guide young readers through a series of incidents that build to a climax rife with purpose and sincerity. This issue was no different, and in fact, I was pleased to read the three detectives endure a falling out before mutually solving the cases at hand. The lapse in teamwork may have been only temporary, but kudos to the writer for realizing that even children – especially children – often have a difficult time working together. Little brats.

See, Robert, an African-American, presents the case of Mrs. Valenti’s missing dog, while wheelchair bound Jinn suggests that the team investigate the whereabouts of missing things from their hideout, but Ray, of Hispanic decent, insists they probe the strange behavior of his football teammate, Ben Crenshaw. Robert and Jinn refuse, dubbing Ben a heartless bully, so Ray stubbornly decides to fly solo. Through varying circumstances, each member of the team realizes that Ben deserves some looking into, and they discover that he has been swiping goods from their scrapyard in an effort to run away from his overbearing stepfather. Ben’s mother has ventured to New Orleans to help hurricane relief efforts, and in her absence, his stepdad has commanded him to stay away from kids of other races. (You didn’t think I distinguished each detective without a reason, did you?) Equipped with their awesome hover-scooter, the detectives track Ben to an abandoned building where they save him and his stepfather from a fatal fall. In the end, everyone realizes they may have misjudged someone they really didn’t know. Yes, the Scrapyard Detectives actually solve the greatest mystery: Why can’t we all just get along?

Don’t worry. They found the dog, too.

Seriously. The Scrapyard Detectives accomplish the duality of their mission with a generous helping of action and adventure. First, four distinct scenes offer more than adequate elements of suspense, including Ray’s plot to ding-dong-distract Ben’s father while a robotic spy sneaks into the house to unearth the truth behind a bloody sports bag. (Solve this: Why do these kids hang out in a scrapyard when they have technology like robotic spy drones at their disposal?) Second, the comic as a whole conveys the inadequacy of prejudgment, both on Robert and Jinn’s part toward Ben, and on Ben’s stepdad’s part toward the other kids, one of whom he wryly dubs “Poncho.” Some of this story may be cheesy, but moments like that are undeniably real. Considering their young audience, the creators don’t pull their punches, so the message is both entertaining and effective.

So, in a Marvel vs. DC style confrontation, who would win the Whiz Kids versus the Scrapyard Detectives crossover? Ray, Robert, and Jinn have my vote. First of all, their equipment far exceeds the capabilities of the Tandy Color Computer 2 with color disk drive. Most importantly, the team behind the Scrapyard utilize the comics format to its fullest, using the latest in lettering and coloring techniques to create a product that would stand up to any other issue on the stands today. Heck, this series, although published too infrequently (three issues in two years?), is perhaps a step above the average newsstand title, because it addresses its intended audience in a respectfully mature manner. It doesn’t dumb things down for kids, so everyone can read it. The Whiz Kids just use an anti-drug message to strategically shroud a proverbial order catalogue. Retrospectively, it’s a funny read, but it isn’t as timeless as The Scrapyard Detectives.

Comic books are educational. Comic books teach us that, if a promotional comic book is actually a contemporary, entertaining read, comic books can actually teach us something, too.


Anonymous said...

Hi, SCRAPYARD DETECTIVES #3 writer Jesse McCann here. Thanks for the nice review-- much appreciated. Answers to two questions: 1) SCRAPYARD DETECTIVES has only three issues in two years because it is published by a non-profit organization, and they have limited funds. They're hoping for funding from grants or donations, so if anyone has help to offer. 2) The reason they stay in the scrapyard is because Robert's dad owns it. Plus, he finds everything he needs to invent the things he invents (even robotic spiders!)

Thanks again,
Jesse McCann

Dave Lanphear said...

Hi, Scrapyard Detectives #3 letterer Dave Lanphear of Artmonkeys Studios here. Thanks for your great review of SD#3; and here's a new byte of info. There will soon be a remastered trade paperback collecting Scrapyard Detectives #1 - #3, according to the series artist Bill Galvan. I'll post more details on my blog at soon! Thought you should know so you can gear up more support!