What do you get when you cross the exploits of a supernatural vigilante with the awkward antics of two roommates by chance who work at a coffee shop serving all the wild and woolly residents of Brooklyn while trying to juggle schedules and rent? No, it isn't the latest pilot coming to Fox's "animation domination" line up; it is instead a great new series published by "So What Press" created by Brooklyn based creators Dave Kelly and Lara Antal called "Tales of the Night Watchman". The first issue debuted last year, along with Antal's "A Comic Guide to Brewing" which this column reviewed last "Cyber Monday". However, with the second issue as well as a bonus one shot, "Tales of the Night Watchman Presents: The Night Collector", set to debut at this weekend's Small Press Expo, now is the right time to dig into these works with two exclusive reviews!
As mentioned in the set-up, "Tales of the Night Watchman" expertly mingles the plots to a sitcom and a comic book pulp serial into a cohesive whole and sets it in the creators' hometown of Brooklyn. Nora and Charlie are roommates and co-workers at "Think Coffee", having to deal with paying the rent on time as well as serving fresh java to the often impatient customers of the area. The major complication is Charlie has been possessed by a spirit who manifests when he's sleeping and becomes the Night Watchman, trench coat and fedora hat wearing defender of justice. While the Night Watchman becomes a local hero (or vigilante to the press) when he uses his mysterious scepter to defeat zombies attacking a mall, things become more complicated when he has to deal with a potential mugging as well as a local murder. Nora and her friends are enamored with rising local politician Dan Deane who is promising big changes for the area; unfortunately Deane has made shady deals with the P.L.O. to obtain a mystical "good luck" charm which may end up as the conduit to a supernatural overlord, Merrick. The first two issues of the main series cover this set up in a highly entertaining style which offers a lot of amusing (and curse laden) dialogue from Kelly and Antal's own strong illustrative style. While fighting zombies may be cut and dry, the Night Watchman's attempts to thwart a mugging end with him becoming involved with the affairs of a homeless street urchin in Serena Thilby, who he then tries to redeem with a coffee shop gig. Meanwhile, Nora's attempts to solve the murder of "a friend of a friend" result in her being attacked and ultimately trying to get aid from the often mysterious Charlie, who sometimes seems as stilted and vague as his alter ego.
Nora and Charlie have an interesting relationship; it certainly isn't quite love (at least not in the over the top girl's romance novel style) but she's open minded enough to work with his supernatural vigilante adventures even if it often makes life harder at the shop. Things get even more interesting once Serena (star of her own comic strip, "Walking Into Traffic") is added to the mix as she's quite a zany ne'er do well with quick hands for pick pocketing as well as a faster lip when she's bored or confused. Charlie is very much a typical sort of hero, although he sometimes needs to be motivated or argued with to intervene into affairs which are less blatantly supernatural and more closer to home. The tone often mixes from serious drama to comedy without skipping a beat, and Antal's simple illustrative style often helps facilitate this smoothly. Charlie and Nora work well together, as the stoic super hero and the more down to earth comrade, and the story treats both as equals to the narrative, with Serena as a more comic relief sidekick.
"The Night Collector" one shot offers art by Molly Ostertag instead of Antal, although Molly's style compliments Antal's very well which allows the work to seamlessly exist in the same "universe". An excursion to the Bronx Zoo for Nora, Charlie, and Serena ends up resulting into stumbling upon a murder mystery involving vampires and employees of the zoo caught up in the drama. The Night Watchman teams up with one employee, Scooter, who is an expert on bats and who was in love with one of the murder victims - who ultimately becomes a vampire herself. The tale mixes in some elements of horror and has its own twist ending, not subscribing to expectations of clear-cut "victories" by the titular hero or easy solutions to supernatural problems.
"Tales of the Night Watchman" is an entertaining mix of comedy, supernatural mystery and action. It reads like no other comic out there from the "big two" or many other indie publishers and has a flair all its own. The characters all feel very real and human even when they're fighting zombies or vampires. The simple black and white art from Antal and Ostertag is so strong that colors almost feel like an intrusion. If you're anywhere near the SPX this weekend, make sure to pick it up. If not, check out the Night Watchman's website as well as the "So What Press" website to buy the issues. Comics and coffee seem to go together, and no comic seems to mingle that as well as this one.