Written by James Venhaus
Art by Pius Bak
Letters by Marshall Dillon
Review by Jason Kahler
Night Owl Society #1 from IDW reprints the book writer James Venhuas successfully Kickstarted in 2014, now with issues #2 and 3 forthcoming.
The book markets itself as “The Breakfast Club meets The Sopranos,” and that description seems apt. The main characters are students at the fancy private St. Cuthbert’s School in Dallas, Texas, and they make their way through the hallways navigating the expected cliques and cliches that mark so much of high school life.
This is a comic book, though, so of course, one of the high schoolers, David, takes it upon himself to do a little superheroing in order to bring to justice the killer of the beloved Father Shawn. We never meet Father Shawn, and never learn why his death has so-effected students from across social groups, but his death is the motivating event behind the narrative. After David’s first venture into rappelling into a dark building as a solo hero ends badly, he assembles a team of fellow teenagers to “do something about” Father Shawn’s murder.
(I should say, no one ever refers to Father Shawn being actually murdered, just that what happened to him was “messed up.” Maybe there’s a twist in the works? That would not be surprising given some of the other surprises this book features.)
The kids themselves are drawn from the usual groups anyone who has spent time at a school will recognize, including A.J., the jock with a heart of gold who relishes the thought of becoming a crimefighter (complete with superhero nickname). This first issue doesn’t give a lot of space to fleshing the gang out beyond names and superhero specialties, so hopefully going forward we get to know them a bit more as The Night Owl Society really springs into action.
The villain is the Viceroy. He dislikes perpetrating the violence himself and instead relies upon his thugs to dispatch lessons and disloyal gang members with equal measure. He doesn’t revel in his role of mob boss, but doesn’t shy away from it, either. In my mind, he’s got a snooty voice. Like a put-upon British butler. And his thin, pencil mustache paints him as a bit of an evil John Waters.
Night Owl Society hits some familiar beats, perhaps too familiar at times. The first issue doesn’t have enough space to turn any of the conventions it draws upon toward fresh directions. The dialogue is snappy and authentic enough, though, to trust the writing will take the story some interesting places in the next two issues. Venhaus is a teacher and a playwrite, and both sets of experiences are reflected well in his characters’ interactions.
Bak’s art is sparse and focused. He accomplishes a lot with just a few thick lines. Sometimes the effect is a good one, and characters and scenes are distilled to their essential content. Other times, the art feels a bit unfinished.
Bak shows he’s thinking about his page construction in innovative ways. His layouts have the right amount of invention to make them interesting without distracting from the story.
Verdict: Buy. Night Owl Society is a fine success story of the Kickstarted book that made good. It’s worth a look and your continued support. There’s plenty of premise and promise in this first issue.