WWWednesday: The Night Owls
by Peter & Robert Timony
Blogger’s note: When I began this year’s A Comic A Day challenge, I explained that my recent move limited my Internet access. Well, I’ve finally set up a personal wireless connection at home, which means I hope to begin and maintain my daily vigil of comic book readin’ and reviewin’ as soon as I catch up on the installments I’ve missed. No more retro posts, like this one. What I’m saying is, my WWWednesday reviews should actually fall on Wednesdays again, starting the day after tomorrow! Now, speaking of catching up to the unknown . . .
If the science fiction of the twentieth century was obsessed with the space adventurer, then the science fiction of the twenty-first century has become gripped by the paranormal investigator. Think about it -- characters like Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Captain Kirk, Luke Skywalker, all gripped by the endless expanse of space. Only in the late nineties, as the twenty-first century loomed on the horizon, did the paranormal investigator steal the spotlight, and even then a preoccupation with the stars set the stage, as Agents Mulder and Scully looked upward and wondered if we (humanity) are alone in the universe. Enter Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hellboy, NBC’s Medium, and CBS’s The Ghost Whisperer, characters all in pursuit of, not the extraterrestrial, but definitely the otherworldly. Interestingly, except for Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, all of these paranormally minded protagonists are also beautiful women, a far cry from the bravado of last century’s Flash Gordon or Captain Kirk. Perhaps ghosts simply need a gentler touch.
Comics have embraced this trend wholeheartedly, thanks in part to Mignola’s B.P.R.D., but also no doubt in response to this trend in pop culture fiction. John Constantine achieved a modicum of mainstream appeal thanks to his incarnation on screen, and The Goon, The Perhapnauts and Proof are all recent series that feature the paranormal investigating the paranormal. (Further, in the latter two cases, Bigfoot is involved.) So, it goes without saying that the realm of webcomics is equally susceptible to such trends . . . hence, The Night Owls. Unlike, say, The Perhapnauts, The Night Owls is one part paranormal adventure, one part period piece, taking place in what I presume to be a turn of the century New England. (Er, turn of the last century, not this one.) Its panel layout and muted gray tones mimic a silent film motif, even including full panel text descriptions of forthcoming events. While the creators retain tradition dialogue balloons, the effect is enough to transport the reader back in time, to establish a certain post-industrial spirit before any other spirits can come into play.
Yes, believe me, this strip has plenty of spirits to go around. Its cast is diverse enough, boasting a Reed Richards-type allergic to sunlight, a scrapping young woman named Mindy, and a wise-talking gargoyle. The Night Owls’ cases range from one strip gags to multi-part mysteries, which isn’t nearly as inconsistent as it sounds considering the creators’ worthy attempts to keep things light-hearted, even if we are dealing with the undead and such. In one such one-two strip, a potential customer strolls into the office, and Mindy innocently offers him a glass of water. When the guest’s head explodes, the pitcher is revealed to have the label “Holy Water,” followed by Mindy's one-liner, “Vampires. I can spot 'em a mile away!” The gag was unsuspected (at least by me), blending humor and supernatural intrigue in a concise, entertaining way. This timing becomes the Night Owls’ equivalent to Hellboy’s small-lettered, “Oh, crap.”
Additionally, this strip’s art remains consistent, undoubtedly a challenge when dealing with differently paced stories. When the storyline continues into another strip, like when a husband tries to elicit his wife’s appreciation by conjuring his astral projection and pretending he’s a murdered ghost, the characters retain their statures and personalities from one installment to the next, as if the reader were flipping through the pages of a comic book rather than clicking through a perpetually loading web page. The style is cartoony without going overboard, maintaining a Sunday funnies vibe right alongside that cinematic scope I describe earlier. In other words, Night Owls is seamless even if you are haunted by a slow Internet connection.
I decided to read The Night Owls when I saw its ad on the back of this week’s Comic Shop News. Coincidentally, an article about the upcoming Perhapnauts ongoing series was also featured, which prompted my comparison and inspiration that this century belongs to the paranormal investigator. I wonder why the sudden shift in science fiction -- from Buck Rogers to Fox Mulder just like that, eh? Perhaps we geeks have realized, why venture upward and outward when there’s plenty of weirdness all around us? Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to explore brave new worlds when we barely understand the truths of our own.