The Webcomic Overlook #186: The Night Owls
“But wait, El Santo,” you say. “Aren’t you taking a break?”
I know. I’ve got to admit something to you: I’m terrible at this whole taking a break thing. And the worst part of it is… I’m breaking hiatus for something that is not, technically, a webcomic.
Twins Peter and Bobby Timony’s The Night Owls is, in fact, closer to being on the digital comic side of the scale than on the webcomic side. It could have been considered a webcomic when Zuda was around. But then Zuda died, a good number of my Zuda-only webcomic blogger compatriots disappeared, and the remaining Zuda issues have been banished to the nether realms of Comixology.
If you want to read The Night Owls anymore, you must download it for $0.99 an issue … though the first issue is free. The Night Owls has since ended, capping off at 9 issues, so a full run of The Night Owls is going to cost you $8 (and a bit more more if you’re going to spring for the print version on Amazon).
I suppose a site called “The Webcomic Overlook” should probably let this one go… but then who would review it? From my experience, most sites reviewing digital comics are focusing on much the same things as their print comic sites … namely DC’s New 52 initiative.
As fate would have it, though, I rediscovered The Night Owls whilst downloading the newest issues of Green Lantern, The Flash, Suicide Squad, and, yes, Aquaman on to my brand-spankin’ new iPad. While I’ve been pleased for the most part, I’m a little miffed that much of the actual content has been very light on story. Aquaman, for example, has been my favorite thus far … but really, he spends the entire issue deflecting criticisms at a fish n’ chips place. If I submitted that as a chapter in NaNoWriMo, someone would probably and inevitably shoot back: “Too much padding.” Are these issues really worth the $2.99 to $3.99 cover prices?
It’s all part of the general trend of decompression. I entered comics in the 90’s, so every issue was just one part of a three part storyline, so stretching things out to six issues seems overly self-indulgent. But I sure that in those days, there were old timers who were railing against the three-issue arcs, reminiscing of the days when you could have a whole story in one (which, to my eyes, just weren’t epic enough). And before then you had three-in-one stories, and before then, the adventures serialized in newspaper strips.
Which brings me to The Night Owls, which hearkens back to the tight, fast paced newspaper strip structure that you’d fin in Terry and the Pirates and Little Orphan Annie. First, let’s compare prices: it’s $0.99. But that’s one thin dollar that’s worth it. For that price, you get pretty much two and a half fun storylines, a bunch of enjoyable characters, and quite possibly a ham sandwich thrown in. Now that, my friends, is a bargain!
The Night Owls (who, incidentally, have a swank as heck logo) are a team of paranormal private investigators. They consist of Professor Ernest Baxter, a bespectacled poindexter who’s the brains of the operation and who can’t go out into the daylight; Mindy Markus, a chipper and athletic young woman who’s seriously rushing on our clueless professor; and Roscoe, a gargoyle who talks like a cabbie. Looking for character development? The Night Owls does have it, but not in the ways you’d expect. In the spirit of retaining a free-wheeling cartoony aesthetic, so developments are often non sequitur and tongue in cheek. Want to know something more about Mindy Marcus? We do find out about her father… or should I say fathers. One of them, her adopted father, is Rumpelstiltskin. The other is a very chauvinistic king of a magical realm. It’s a pleasant surprise, mainly because it runs so contrary from the personality traits that we grow so familiar with and fall in love with.
The cartoonishness of The Night Owls is a big part of the charm. It’s got the innocence and manic creativity of a Golden Age comic. There’s a storyline concerning a villain by the name of Mr. You, who looks like Dick Tracy villain The Blank. He has the frightening power of stealing people’s identities and taking on the appearance of his victims.
Well… he just straight up rips the entire face of a dude like it was a rubber Halloween mask. While the pain is probably excruciating, the victim turns out to be OK (Mr. You can kill his victims, because dead they can’t impart their identity to him), and they have no problem reattaching their faces back on. The biggest problem, in fact, is if Mindy delivered a shiner while Mr. You was wearing your face. But that’s more of a cosmetic issue than anything. Nothing a little Maybelline can’t fix.
The rest of The Night Owls treats us to other goofy otherworldly concepts such as a gangster with a magical lead pipe that can dispel banshees, a werewolf being framed for murder, and vampire gangsters. Seriously, they had me at the vampire gangsters. Everything is rendered in glorious sepia (except for the issue where the team enters a technicolor fantasy realm), getting me in a very Charlie Chaplin mood.
The format and the generally light-hearted tone, in fact, made The Night Owls always feel a little out-of-step with the rest of Zuda. Bayou, High Moon, Azure, and the others were far more somber and serious. The Nights Owls is also ostensibly about horror. However, if the rest of Zuda was My Chemical Romance, The Night Owls was The Charleston: lively, upbeat, and made you want to kick up your heels.
If there are any flaws, it’s the way The Night Owls ends. They were setting up an intriguing love quadragngle between Prof. Baxter, Mindy Markus, handsome detective Bill McRory, and sexy Apache woman Hekalu. But then, as of issue 8, everything seems to have gone into wrap-up mode. Loose story elements were re-introduced just to be hastily tied up. I imagine that the Timonys had a longer term plan, or perhaps plans to keep The Night Owls going on indefinitely, when Zuda folded last year. Perhaps, caught a little off guard, they plowed forward to the all-too Hollywood ending where Baxter faces his greatest challenge with all his friends cheering him on.
Rather than cheer along, I was left with a sinking feeling of, “Wait, that’s it?”
Almost as an added bonus, The Night Owls turns out to be one of the easiest comics to read on the tiny screen of an iPod. The pan-and-scan option feels unnatural for most comics. Not so the case for The Night Owls. Each page is roughly 6 panels long — which makes The Night Owls the most webcomic-like of all its Zuda brethren. When the reader zooms in on them and you slide your finger across the screen from one panel to the next, the transitions feels seemless. No more having to tilt your iPod sideways and having to zoom in on microscopic speech balloons!
And, well, it looks great on the iPad, too. Zuda Comics were designed with the reader held horizontally, and the images generally come out nice and crisp.
So there you have it! The Night Owls: a steal at $8, and definitely a better bargain than most of DC’s overpriced new comics.
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)
Posted on October 18, 2011, in 5 Stars, action webcomic, adventure webcomic, all ages webcomic, comedy webcomic, digital comics, fantasy webcomic, gothic, horror webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.