A friend of mine describes Weird Detective as the best J’onn J’onzz story ever told. It’s entirely possible, though the protagonist in Weird isn’t an alien from Mars, he’s a different kind of visitor. Weird Detective is Cthulhu and Lovecraft, not little green men.
Though the protagonist is sort of a little green man in his home dimension.
Writer Fred Van Lente gives the protagonist a lot of back story and some great first person narration. He’s come to Earth on a mission, one with a somewhat mundane resolution–humorously mundane, however; Van Lente likes his wry jokes. I mean, the protagonist–Sebastian Green (great noir cop name)–telepathically communicates with his cat. Just a regular cat too. Not a special one. It’s often very funny, but it also goes a long way in giving the book some personality. Because without it, a lot of Weird Detective would otherwise just be a cop comic.
Albeit one with Lovecraftian sea witches and monsters and so on. The personality carries it through, whether it’s how Van Lente uses the first person narration to get across all these creepy extra-dimensional mind powers Greene has or how artist Guiu Villanova occasionally will play with composition to control the reading pace. It’s a thoughtfully executed book.
The detective gets a partner, who’s secretly investigating him, which he knows about because he’s from another dimension. They have decent but not great chemistry. Van Lente is using the partner as a narrative device to reveal not just Greene’s back story–as she investigates, he reveals to the reader–but she also serves as an expository tool to tie a couple of the plot lines together. She’s not even part of it, just there to voice the exposition. It’s too bad, but far from a dealbreaker for the comic.
Vilanova and the colorists–Maurício Wallace and Josan Gonzalez–do a fantastic job with the setting. It’s this sunburnt New York City, modern but kind of like a colorized film noir with the saturation turned up. Even when Van Lente gives the partner, Fayez, her origin–at the very end too, right before a weak and confusing reveal–and it’s ultra-modern terrorism and police corruption stuff, Vilanova still makes it look like that colorized noir. The book’s got a lot of personality–protagonist, voice, plot, and art. It all comes together quite well.
In the second half, Greene and Fayez are after the same big bad–sort of, Weird Detective is almost as confusing as The Big Sleep in terms of confusion (there’s a whole Mr. Big creep who’s apparently just around in case there’s a sequel series)–but they’re not working together. Keeping them apart in their investigations means a little bit more filler, but the book doesn’t get anything from it. It’s almost like Van Lente forgot about the bigger mystery until about halfway through. He was having too much fun with the concept before that point.
Van Lente tries hard to make the reader like certain characters. Some of it is just character development, some of it is plot development, some of it is manipulation. Van Lente’s greatest success is in delivering, with Vilanova, a supernatural cop story with a real Lovecraftian bent. Hopefully they’ll do a sequel someday.