Graphic novel review: Specter Inspectors by Bowen McCurdy and Kaitlyn Musto

(courtesy Simon & Schuster)

Here’s to stories that wonderfully defy expectations!

While the media release for Specter Inspectors clearly quotes co-creator Bowen McCurdy describing this delightfully scary but heartwarming five-part tale of the supernatural as one featuring “queer characters on adventures, ghosts, romance, and only a handful of demons”, this reviewer somehow ordered it expecting it to be a heady mix of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? meets Lumberjanes (a stablemate of Specter Inspectors on the BOOM! Box imprint).

This “D’oh!” moment, a product of a rushed schedule, stress and the lowered comprehension this results in, ended up a wondrously expected gift because it meant critical defenses were down and I could enjoy this wholly original, heartfelt and character-rich story on its own gloriously creepy and imaginative terms.

It’s clear from the get-go that McCurdy and Musto love the horror genre, with a reverence that speaks of long immersion in it but also still with the ability to poke at cliches and tropes all in service of a story that gleefully sidesteps them while making clever use of them where it serves the story well.

Simply put, Specter Inspectors works because the two creators are able to play with the conventions of the genre without once being beholding to them, resulting in a story that has the whimsical playfulness of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? with a heavy dose of the darkness of its hardcore 2016 comic reboot, Scooby Apocalypse.

An odd comnbination? Don’t even think that for a minute.

What you get in Specter Inspectors is a gloriously good mix of fully-realised characters that run the mix from wholehearted believer (Noa, the host of an online series dedicated to investigating the paranormal) to snarky sceptic (her non-binary brother Gus) to gently dubious (Noa’s college friend, and maybe something more, Astrid) and cameraman Ko who’s goodheartedly credulous and there because he thinks what they do matters and helps people.

The banter between them is quip-heavy bliss while also feeling groundedly realistic with Gus and Noa acting like loving siblings who also annoy the hell out of each other, and Astrid and Noa relating like two close friends who suspect there may be more at play that just friendship but aren’t sure about what that is or what to do about it even if they did.

They might be happily dysfunctional but the bonds are strong with this four, which is important because it gives Specter Inspectors a good, solid emotional and character-driven anchor point from which to tell a beguilingly scary of one haunted town who may just have inadvertently sold its civic soul to the devil, or at least one particular demon.

(courtesy BOOM BOX!)

Yes, as McCurdy promises, there is demonic activity, ghosts – Cape Grace is jammed to the supernatural gills with them – and all kinds of century old secrets so dark that you’d need a damn good light to uncover them all.

Or Noa’s tenacious team who, when they effectively become the story they’re seeking to investigate – quite how is best left to the reading but it’s beautifully, humourously and affectingly done – have to solve the mystery at the heart of Cape Grace if they ever want to leave the place.

Sporting artwork vividly, colourfully and descriptively alive, Specter Inspectors combines judiciously exercised tropes – the arrogant villain who is convinced they will realise in their nefarious goals, the isolated town with secrets it cannot divulge, odd townsfolk on an ancient mission, creepy atmospherics – with a breath of fresh (hellish) air, diving to the heart of what it means to be friends and family, all done with a queer sensibility that is an organic and normalised part of the story.

Specter Inspectors is part of a welcome new, fiercely quickly gathering trend in modern storytelling, whatever the medium, where queer relationships, ideas, worldviews, just are; no fuss is made of them and everyone simply accepts for instance that Gus is non-binary with they/them personal pronouns or that Astrid really LIKES Noa and maybe should tell her because they belong together dammit.

As a queer person myself, this brings relief and joy to my heart because not only do I see my world reflected in perfectly-wrought stories like Specter Inspectors but I also see the world reflected as it actually is, no matter what the extremist, religious conservative right might like to say.

The queerness is essential to the story, which is part-romantic comedy in the offing, but its heart and soul centre are these four people who closeness and togetherness, whose devotion to each other invests this demonic tale of a town possessed with the kind of humanity that all good horror stories should have.

Sure we want to be scared and frightened and genuinely unnerved but we also want to believe that the characters we love will make it out alive; without that very human element of vulnerability but also of belonging and your survival mattering to others, horror stories are supernatural bluster and spectacle without meaningful reason for being besides some darkly energetic scares.

Specter Inspectors is so much more than that – a tautly premised and told story with artwork so luminously rich you swear each and every scene is jumping off the page, it is rich in characters who matter, story beats that have reason and resonance and the kind of ending that feels hard fought-for while also being a celebration of friendship, found family and belonging, all with a queer twist that makes it feel very now even as it dives into the most ancient and darkly scary of ideas.

(courtesy BOOM BOX!)

Here’s your chance to meet the creators …

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