Noir, true crime and the like have come to consume the pop culture landscape for nearly a decade. Try turning on your favorite streaming platform, looking at the Apple podcast charts or even simply checking out your local news without realizing the permanent place this fascination with death and detectives has taken in the zeitgeist. That has even spilled over into the most supernatural of all the Marvel books on the shelves: Strange Academy. Writer Skottie Young, paired with a consistently excellent art team, is able to bring those vibes to this quirky series without losing the heart that makes Strange Academy the most feel-good superhero comic out there.
Strange Academy takes a left turn in its 11th issue, diverging from the hijinks of the magically powered students and into a murder mystery. While that may seem a bit dark for the whimsical, light and all-ages fun that’s come to be expected in this series, it’s done so deftly.
With a scene-stealing guest star appearance from the irreverent Howard the Duck, the typical Strange Academy tone stays the course, leading to something that feels more goofy (in a positive way) like Knives Out rather than bleakness of, say, Mare of Easttown. The nine-panel grid layout filled with the students’ outrageous Gen Z social media speak against the backdrop of a “whodunnit” keeps the laughs coming even in the face of the death of Toth from Weirdworld.
Artist Humberto Ramos’ style has made for a perfect pairing with Young throughout the Strange Academy run. Whether it was in the past where the school takes a trip to Asgard or the students are populating the French Quarter down in New Orleans, Ramos’ cartoonish penciling gives off the feel of a young adult animated series. If there was ever to be a Harry Potter series at HBO Max, Ramos should be the one leading the charge on character designs.
Ramos is at his best with those fantastical elements of the series, but even in a more grounded issue, he still hits all the necessary character beats. It’s the disheveled hair of an exasperated Howard the Duck. It’s the the alarm with which the teenage cast responds to claims that they may be a part of Toth’s death. Add in the coloring from frequent Ramos collaborator Edgar Delgado, and even the sublime moments of Strange Academy are fully brought to life.
In just under a year’s worth of issues, Strange Academy has weaved a tale that has allowed readers to become attached to a whole host of new characters. In mainstream superhero comics, fans have come to read certain characters consistently out of brand loyalty due to equal parts nostalgia and inertia. Those characters have been there since their youth, whether they fire came to prominence on Saturday morning cartoons, Hollywood blockbusters, overpriced action figures or comic tales of old. Carving out a niche with new figures in a living, breathing overarching tale that spans 60 years with literally thousands of characters is an achievement.
Doyle Dormammu is representative of the universal struggle of loving your parents, but not wanting to fall into their mistakes that have negatively affected your own life. Emily Bright illustrates our own insecurities and dealing with imposter syndrome. Calvin Morse is our fear of abandonment. The best young adult fiction reminds us of the person we used to be, how far we’ve come in our lives since our younger days and how some of those same problems nevertheless persist. Strange Academy is no exception.
The downside of falling for a group of brand-new characters is that their books aren’t long to last. As long as this creative unit is allowed to keep spinning the web of this tale, Marvel fans should be buying these issues and following along. For readers sick of being stuck in the mud of the all-encompassing history of the Marvel Universe, Strange Academy remains a welcome breath of fresh air.
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