The mid-2000s offered a glut of television series that featured a female protagonists who had an ability to pierce the veil between this world and the other side—whatever that might be. From Medium to The Ghost Whisperer, while good intentions were there, the Patricia Arquette and Jennifer Love Hewitt vehicles never quite stuck the landing.
Of course, the problem is that neither of those shows had Trine Hampstead.
Dark Horse Comics’ newest title Mystery Girl, written by Paul Tobin (Bandette) with art by Alberto Albuquerque (Letter 44), its second issue out today, follows Londoner Trine who just “knows” things about folks who cross her path: the missing will out of someone’s reach, the inner soul lady’s new paramour, the lies we tell one another. The whys and wherefores of Trine’s gifts are the only secret out of her grasp, and she’s not certain she wants to know. Content to employ her talents as a street detective parked on a sidewalk near her London flat, Trine’s curiosity in a new case leads her to chasing clues leading to mammoths in Siberia, with a cold, sadistic murderer on her trail.
Now, I realize that the last couple of sentences read as if I plucked a handful of random words from the ether and dumped them into a blender, but, under Tobin’s adept wordsmithery, the plot has an effervescence about it that make all of those seemingly disparate threads blend together seamlessly and create its own sense. The engine of that plot is Tobin’s characterization, particularly of Trine, who he imbues with equal parts ebullience and reservation that make the story never lag. While Tobin shows Trine in quieter moments, sitting resigned in a subway train car to the secrets of everyone about her filling her personal atmosphere, she can’t help but interject herself in the lives of those who are struggling with their own personal mysteries. This isn’t a protagonist who is wallowing in existential angst about her gift; instead, Tobin writes a lead who embraces that power, even when it brings trouble on herself and her close circle of friends.
While the engaging, seemingly left-field plot involving a case of missing wooly mammoths is intriguing, what I found really compelling is how Tobin plays with this idea of secrets and truth and the narratives we write for ourselves to plow through the day. Trine uses her ability to help bring others to revelations in their lives or obscured facts, yet she says she has no interest in learning where her gift originates. Although that’s not necessarily a bad thing—I’m guilty of not looking around the corner to look for larger truths myself—it does provide an interesting cracked mirror image of how Trine comports herself in her own affairs versus how she uses her “knowing” in her own life, especially when she’s interjecting herself in others’ lives when off the clock from her street detective work.
That play of truth against reality shines in Albuquerque’s pencils, which bring a mix of cartooning and realism to Trine and the locales she crisscrosses her way through. The landscapes of London and Russia are rich in detail and seem plucked from life, while, at the same time, Trine and the other inhabitants of of Mystery Girl’s world have exaggerated expressions, the readers can’t help but knowing what the characters are thinking and feeling. In turn, whereas a character like Trine, with her esoteric powers, might otherwise have a wall around her that makes it difficult for readers to connect, Albuquerque’s cartooning makes her and the Londoners feel like neighbors and acquaintances.
Mystery Girl #2 is a strong example of how to build a cast of characters that are strongly defined, assured in themselves and their abilities, with a sense of mystery as deep as the goings-on swirling about them.
Mystery Girl #2, with words by Paul Tobin and art by Alberto Albuquerque, is on sale now from Dark Horse Comics.