Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Hyperactive, Supernatural Boy Detective with a Girl's Name

Every now and then, I come across a comic and think, "How have I never seen this comic before?" It doesn't happen very often, but it's really cool when it does. It just serves to remind me how many cool comics there are out there that I have yet to discover.

I had that very feeling this weekend as I archive binged my way through Hanna is Not a Boy's Name, a fun little genre mash of supernatural dramedy and slapstick noir. Our narrator is a zombie who cannot remember his former life or even his name, and shows up on the doorstep of one Hanna Falk Cross, supernatural detective, looking for work. The zombie is expecting a female Mike Hammer with a penchant for magic, but instead discovers that Hanna is, in fact, a young man-child with poor impulse control and a liberal definition of "detective." Still, the two strike up a partnership and immediately take on their first case: ridding a client's home of a pesky vampiric squatter.

Throughout the first story arc, Hanna is Not a Boy's Name is much like Hanna himself: well-meaning but overeager, competent but in desperate need of restraint. Dialogue seems to whizz and bang right off the page. The typesetting and paneling is eclectic and oddly frenetic. I felt myself getting a little lightheaded just looking at it. But if you hold out, Hanna settles down a bit without losing its sense of goofy fun. As creator Tessa Stone (It's a girl's name and she's a girl. Go figure.) has tempered her style a bit, her characters have thrived. Hanna has an odd couple relationship with the deadpan (har har) zombie, but they both share an unexpected warmth and (thus far unexplored) traumatic pasts. And the cast gets some nice variety in the form of Conrad, Hanna and the zombie's prissy client, the gruff and unscrupulous (unlicensed) Doc Worth, and unfazable artist Toni.

Perhaps my favorite thing about Hanna (aside from its increasingly strong characterization), is that it is somewhat askew from typical noir conventions. It always starts off well and good -- with Hanna and the zombie getting a new case with supernatural overtones -- but it all quickly goes to pot. Hanna doesn't so much "detect" as "stumble into unfortunate situations," and he's half as likely to resolve the case as get the client killed. And yet he operates with such an infectious joie de vivre that Hanna is Not a Boy's Name remains as fun and offbeat as its title.

[Hanna is Not a Boy's Name]

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