Comic Review: Martin Mystery, the thinking-man’s adventurer.

Writer(s): Alfredo Castelli

Artist(s): Giancarlo Alessandrini and others.

US Publisher Dark Horse

THE PLOT:

Art historian, archeologist, writer and collector of unusual objects Martin Mystery works from his home base in New York City to clarify the most strange and dark mysteries that cloaks themselves in conspiracy theories and myth.

THE REVIEW:

This is one of those European comics that American Audiences should feel right at home with. Alfredo Castelli has been putting out this series since the early 1980’s and I managed to read them in Italian almost when they came out. And was hooked.

But sadly, this comic belongs more to the genre of adventure than heroic, and that has been the excuse that many US publishers have used to justify their fear of translating this book to our market.

I’ve come to consider this collection the Tintin for the new century, although both collections have been created in the same century. Whereas Tintin started his globetrotting and the beginning of the 20th century, and Martin Mystere (as he is originally called) is more 1980’s and later, both travel the globe searching for the truth, and to find the answers to riddles, while confronting sometimes ghastly sometimes eerie mysteries. I do have to concede that Tintin may be more General Public, while Martin Mystere do play more with themes of murder and conspiracy, but then again our children nowadays have different sensitivities and preferences than the ones held in esteem by the children of the early 20th century.

The DarkHorse edition is a great US introduction to fummeti. “Fummeti” is a generic term for Italian Comic. Fummeti is generally regarded as a Black & White pulp-like comic, with usually adult themes. These adult themes don’t necessarily refer to sexually explicit themes, although often they do, and as of the time of this writing there is quite an extensive library already created.

The editors at Dark Horse chose the most significant stories (not necessarily the bests, but surely the one most representatives) to put together this short collection of Martin Mystere stories.

The books are also very reasonably priced, and I really recommend you pick them up if this review pikes your interest, and at $4.95 this enthralling books are available to every budget.

The genious of Martin Mystere is that the scripts of Alfredo Castelli are extremely well constructed and thought through. Mr. Castelli has created a whole universe and a pantheon where fiction intermingles with facts in a very subtle and fascinating way, making many young readers open web browsers or actual encyclopedias and search things such as Piri Reis Map, Bimini Road, Bermuda Triangle, the spear of Longinos or Operation Paperclip.

Alfredo Castelli is the original Dan Brown, and by this I mean the original factionalist of the 20th century who grabbed a bona-fide mystery and surrounded it with a plot, characters and adventure (Also, in my humble opinion, his fiction runs circles around the other paperback writer).

In Alfredo Castelli’s universe, the artist frequently uses other of his works as buttresses for the Martin Mystere fiction. Shaping his stories are two major antediluvian civilizations that engaged in a now forgotten battle between them, Mu and Atlantis. Their conflict created weapons of mass destructions, and ancient parallels with nuclear holocaust that Castelli manages to weave into connections between many myths of our century with the remnants of this forgotten universe.

Stonhenge? Remains of an Atlantean Tomb.

Azores sunken harbor? Idem.

The Bermuda Triangle? Magnetic disruptions that remain from the WMD from the ancient war.

Alfredo Castelli manages to thread a long etc that intertwines urban legends and geographical mysteries with adventures related to discovering our long lost past.

I always admired Castelli as an adventure-writer of epic proportions. I know for a fact that his character Martin served as the propeller for an innumerable amount of young readers start researching things like OOPArts and Ancient mysteries.

The art that started the series come from the masterful hand of Giancarlo Alessandrini and through the course of the years the illustrative tasks have also fallen on other artists, but all of them have been more or less faithful to the initial look that Alessandrini started, the fumetti look. Alessandrini’s art sets a tone to the stories that is best enjoyed in glorious Black & White, where we can appreciate his masterful trace, his contrasts with blackened silhouettes, and malleable facial expressions.

And even though I love Giancarlo Alessandrini’s art work, I can’t label this graphic novels as “recommendable” ONLY based on the art, but more so for its innovative writing and for establishing an isthmus between comics and adventure novels. Fueling our interest and making the audience care about the stories is the fact that Castelli’s creation is not a superman, although he may be athletic, but he is also quite self-deprecating, he is afraid of getting old, and he admits being long winded. Castelli gave him as companion (and more than a side-kick) a Neanderthal man he encountered in one his travels, and he provides the muscle needed in the adventures, amen of fulfilling that job requirement of having someone to tell the story to.

But the tapestry formed by the rest of the supporting characters is also a rich one. Diana, the on and off romantic interest of Martin is played a bit beyond a stereotype, as are all the bad guys, Sergei Orloff included, Martin’s main nemesis.

Now, I remember when I was working in Europe, I happened to be introduced to one of the later artists of Martin Mystere, who told me that he had heard that Castelli has created Diana as an annoying Lois Lane, whose main knack was always interrupt the fun that “the boys” were having solving misteries, and the name Diana was a bit in honor at the Lee Falk’s character The Phantom, whose love interest was also Diana, and was used to getting herself in trouble she couldn’t often get out of. How much true is in this rumor, only Castelli knows for sure, and I leave it here as a fun rumor.

In Italy, Martin was published by Sergio Bonelli Editore, and in a stroke of genius, Bonelli had instances of cross-overs with other characters of this publishing group, such as Zagor and Mister No. and Dylan Dog (another amazing investigator of the paranormal, created by Tiziano Sclavi). Now, Martin did not appear out of nowhere. It is based in an older character of Castelli, Allan Quartermain, the grandson of the famous adventurer, except that the grandson got involved in a lot of paranormal investigations. This character was published by the Italian Publisher Supergulp in the late 1970’s and upon the ceasing publication, Castelli took it Sergio Bonelli, who relaunched it, first as Doc Robinson, and finally as Martin Mystere.

I am not recommending this collection based on its contribution to the graphic storytelling genre. In that department it lacks innovation. Where it has it in spades is in taking a thorny subject matter, and turning it into a page turner, where adventure overcomes the reader, and you want to find out the explanation to the mystery at every turn of the page. That’s where Martyn Mystere excels. Into making a novel for grown ups, for intelectuals, and fleshing out a “thinking man’s adventurer” if you will.

If you want to find out who built Stonehenge, what happened in Tunguska in 1908, the true nature of the Werewolf, the Vampire and the Golem, while having a chat with King Arthur, after unmasking Santa Claus and finding out what happened in the Bermuda Triangle, then you need to pick up this collection as soon as you can.

Kudos to Dark Horse for publishing this “thinking-man’s adventurer”

8 stars

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2 Comments Add yours

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