Night Owl Society #3 ComicWow! Review

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James Venhaus’ only comic credits are the first two issues of Night Owl Society. They are not, however his only writing credits.  He is a prolific playwright, actor, and producer.  He has received awards for Ugly People, The Happy Couple, The Census, Saints over the Edge, and The Group Project.

Pius Bak, a Lithuanian artist of great promise, has worked on the first two issues of Night Owl Society, and he has a lot of work on the web.  He has a fascinating comic online called Australi, which is well-worth the time to check it out (Issue #1 is a free download).  He is the artist; the story is by Timothy Wood.

“Revelation,” the third and final issue of this miniseries, brings a lot of surprises. The basic premise is simple:  a group of misfit high-school kids come together to fight a local crime boss, the Viceroy.  The Viceroy is responsible for the death of a beloved local figure, the school chaplain.

In issue #2, readers discover that David, the leader of the team, is also the son of the local crime boss.  The team discovers as well, and the truth nearly destroys them.

Worse, the Viceroy knows everything. He knows his son is his enemy.  He knows who the other Night Owls are.  He knew that killing the Chaplain would turn his son into his enemy.  Even worse, there are important secrets about the Viceroy that the Night Owls don’t know.

This issue starts with the Viceroy, having kidnapped his own daughter, David’s sister, issuing an ultimatum to the Night Owl leader.

Venhaus’ writing is complex and layered.  He creates characters that work against stereotypes, but they are not merely iconoclasts; they are complex and well-developed. He resists the temptation to take the easy or predictable way out.  He does the unexpected and avoids the melodramatic in favor of plots that deconstruct the typical “teen superhero” mythos.  These are not the X-Men, nor are they Teen Titans, the Legion of Superheroes, or any of the myriad of repetitive mask & cape comics.

Bak’s artwork is slightly reminiscent of Michael Dialynas’ art for another teen-centered story (The Woods).  Bak uses panel structure in a nonstandard way, using asymmetry, differentiated structure, and other devices to emphasize plot, character, setting, and theme.  His use of tone (shadow, light and dark) is also very impressive.

This is the third and final issue of this miniseries/story arc, but Venhaus and Bak have very clearly left an opening for a sequel.

This is a new creative team without much comic book experience, but it is difficult to tell that based on the quality of their first effort.  The writing, like the artwork, demonstrates professional maturity.  Both of these storytellers resist the lure of the conventional to tell a story that, while far from the mundane, still exists within the realm of possibility.

Written by: James Venhaus

Illustrated by: Pius Bak