Dennis Hopeless

The Answer, Dark Horse Comic’s “superhero mystery with explosive action,” hit the shelves this week. Written by Dennis Hopeless (Avengers Arena, Cable and X-Force) and co-created by artist Mike Norton (Battlepug, Revival), The Answer takes a fresh look at the costumed superhero, working with clichés and using character to drive the story.

Admittedly, when you think “vigilante crime fighter wearing far too much spandex,” you don’t generally follow that up with “brought to you by Dark Horse Comics.” But, Hopeless and Norton have teamed up to craft an engaging story with suspense, action and just the right amount of snark.

The Answer opens with a window-ledge teaser before backtracking to earlier that night to focus on bored, puzzle-obsessed librarian Devin, a character who could have easily collapsed under the weight of her Geek Girl Street Cred. Instead of being a wooden archetype – and in spite of her geek girl cliché glasses – Devin stays firmly in the realm of the realistic. She’s adorkable in all of her quirky glory, just nerdy enough to feel authentic and humanized by moments like her mother’s awkward holiday card or her unsurprising lack of athletic prowess. She’s relatable in her ordinariness, a kind of accessible EveryNerd in sensible shoes.

After handily unlocking a multi-layered puzzle ball, Devin is invited to check out (an actual, if underwhelming, site), which drags her into the world of Chip Carney, evil motivational speaker. Her success with the puzzles on Chip’s site alerts The Answer, the spandex-clad punctuation fan who keeps the streets of Chicago safe. The three draw together as Chip’s lackeys and The Answer race to secure Devin. Devin, not entirely convinced she needs securing, focuses instead on witty banter and pepper spray – at least until the tear gas starts flowing.

There’s action and explosions and some good old fashioned face-punching, which is always appreciated from your tights-clad superhero. But there’s also subtlety and intrigue and a truly excellent math joke about halfway through. It’s an awkward balance, jumping between The Answer’s handy but violent solution to a gas station robbery, Devin’s nerdishly engaging dominance of all things trivia and Chip Carney’s sleazy appeal to a room full of entranced Apeiron acolytes – but the contrast works and the book rolls along, a wholly engaging read punctuated at times by violence, at times by geeky allusion.

My only complaint about The Answer is also one of its stronger parts – it’s slow sledding to start, offering more about the character than the action. The opening suspense of Devin clinging to the window ledge becomes more about her intellectual pursuits than the people chasing her. The Answer’s apparently superhuman resistance to injury gets underplayed by Devin’s thoughts on action in movies versus life. Even The Answer’s unseen point man and extensive surveillance system gets pushed to the background in favor of a spilled bowl of cereal. I can only assume (and certainly hope) that this is part of the game of The Answer, the trick of, as Devin praises early on, “see[ing] a problem from all sides and think[ing] about a different way of interpreting it.” I want to know to what I’m supposed to pay attention – but I get the feeling that that confusion is part of the ride.

If that’s true – that The Answer itself is a game of nuance and sequence – then this issue is not only interesting but also probably dreadfully important later on. Undoubtedly, I will flip back to this first issue in a few months and go, “Ohhh. Of course. It was right there all along.” I look forward to that, really. What’s causing me some worry right now, though, is that eventual reveal. There’s too much groundwork laid, too many invitations for depth and false leads, for this to get resolved neatly in any kind of hurry. This first issue feels like a slow reveal, which is great for establishing characters – but maybe not so great when you’re only starting with a four-issue run. Since I’m not Devin Mackenzie, master of puzzles, I’m worried that things aren’t going to fall into place fast enough.

But, as the start of a story, The Answer works – it’s engaging, it’s entertaining, it blends action and humor and bite. There’s enough set up here to make this interesting – but enough held back to make me anxiously await issue two.

The Answer is available at your local comic shop and from Dark Horse Digital. If you want to hear more about The Answer and co-creator Mike Norton, check out our exclusive interview with him here

In 2012, All-Star Marvel and DC artist Mike Norton further moved toward creator owned projects, continuining his Eisner Award winning Battlepug saga online (and in collected editions through Dark Horse) while also co-creating Image Comics’ rural noir zombie book Revival and Dark Horse Comics’ brand new costumed hero book, The Answer, which debuts today.

Here, Norton tells us about how he picks his projects, why he doesn’t hide from superhero tropes, how Revival isn’t your typical zombie book, battling zombie fatigue, and if he’d like to see Battlepug live on as a cartoon series.

Along the way, we also discuss the challenges of telling a slow burn story, the appeal of The Answer‘s female lead, and how a costumed hero fits in at Dark Horse.

All that and more with Mike Norton after the jump.  (more…)