By: Steve Niles (writer), Fiona Staples (art) & Shawn Lee (letters)

The Story: The heat ratchets up for the Mystery Society as one of them is captured while others continue the quest to find Edgar Allen Poe’s skull.

What’s Good: Fiona Staples’ art is really something.  She uses a very fine line that makes her characters look alive and emotive it a way that is hard to do with some of the darker styles out there.  And, since she is also coloring her work, the coloring is really part of the artwork in a way that is hard to have happen when there is a separate colorist.  That isn’t to say that a separate colorist cannot shine, but Ms. Staples is able to use her knowledge of how she wants to color something to inform her pencil and ink work.  She also accomplishes the feat of drawing attractive women who (a) do not have DD chests and (b) are not nudes with spray painted on costumes.  Some comic artists can’t draw clothing worth a damn (think of how many trench coats we see???), so we should applaud when we see a character who looks like an attractive person you’d see on the street.  It is very nice…

From a story standpoint, this is issue #4 out of 5.  You know what that means: the story is going to stall a little as the creator maneuvers story elements into their positions for the grand finale.  So, Steve Niles does a smart thing and plays up the humor a little bit.  That’s smart.  The real story stars of this issue are Secret Skull and Jules Verne as they chase the skull of Edgar Allen Poe.  It is just a visually silly pairing: zombie girl in skull mask teamed with famous “dead” author in a Johann Krauss suit.

What’s Not So Good: The story has a little bit of a BPRD vibe (I “hear” Johann Krauss from the Hellboy movies when Verne speaks) and a lot of the characters seem similar to other characters we’ve seen in other fictional works.  That criticism has always been in play for this series, but it was able to avoid it by exploiting the weird and whacky.  As mentioned above, it is really hard to trot out new and unique elements in the penultimate issue of a miniseries, and without that oddness you notice the clichés a little more.  This is a neat series and IDW could certainly bring it back, but it will have a hard time not being accused of being a BPRD rip-off at this point in time.  That’s probably unfair, and hey….look at how many zombie and vampire comics are out there.  There is certainly room for two series with oddball casts pursuing the occult.

Conclusion: Fun, but slightly cliché.  Fiona Staples’ art is the real star.

Grade: C+

– Dean Stell