Papercutz branches out from their graphic novel continuations of the classic Hardy Boys adventure, Undercover Brothers, with the New Case Files. As advertised in the press releases and in the publicity contained in the books, “legendary comics writer, Gerry Conway and artist, Paulo Henrique, take the world-famous teen sleuths in a bold new direction that’s sure to thrill and possibly shock all Hardy Boys fans!”
I happen to be one of those Hardy Boys fans, as a collector of boys’ adventure series. I also have plenty of Hardy Boys readers at my library, mostly boys and girls ages 9-11 who enjoy the original adventures. A few of them also like the Undercover Brothers series. But I would have a hard time handing them this new series.
Frank and Joe, now working for ATAC (American Teens Against Crime) aren’t such a good team anymore. Joe is tired of Frank’s insistence on being the leader, making plans, and never jumping into the action. Frank is tired – and worried – about Joe’s heedless plunges into situations he hasn’t studied and his impulsive and reckless behavior. They’re both rubbing each other the wrong way and spend more time arguing than solving, or at least investigating crimes.
In Crawling with Zombies, Frank and Joe go undercover to find out why teen flash mobs masquerading as zombies are apparently losing control of their minds. They split up after an argument and Joe and their friend Chet plunge into a flash mob, where they promptly come under the influence of the mysterious mind control. Frank and his friend Belinda meanwhile, have discovered the source of the mind control chemicals, although not the person behind it all, and Frank’s last-minute arrival saves Joe and the other teens.
In Break-Up, there’s still no final solution for the previous mystery, but the boys are already moving onto a new problem; who is causing the dangerous and even fatal accidents on the reality show Break-Up, where teams of siblings compete in dangerous stunts? Joe’s impulsive behavior gets them into trouble, but he manages to gather important information and the two work together to get themselves out of a deadly trap. However, the shadowy figure behind it all is still a mystery. The story ends with the boys’ parents insisting on more family time so the boys can stop arguing.
The art definitely has a manga influence, with exaggerated facial expressions when the boys get excited or surprised, big eyes, and long flowing hair, especially for Joe, whose hair seems to grow and shrink on its own. Aunt Gertrude, now Aunt Trudy, looks about fifteen and the attempt to match her traditional disapproval of the boys and old-fashioned ideas with a new, updated character strikes a ridiculous note. There’s quite a bit of action and movement throughout the stories, with races, stunts, zombie mobs, police, and criminals, but the stories are dominated by Joe and Frank’s interpersonal problems and most of the artwork reflects this in close-ups of their faces with varying emotions.
What I find most difficult to swallow in these new stories is the intended audience. The Hardy Boys has always been a middle grade series and repeated attempts to update and make the stories interesting to an older audience have mostly failed. These stories seem to be jumping on the bandwagon of superhero comics with their attempt to “shock” readers with startling new personalities and out-of-character adventures for well-known protagonists.
Both Joe and Frank seem younger than their traditional ages of 17 and 18 with Joe’s naïve attempts to attract girls and Frank’s shyness and obvious discomfort with the idea of a girlfriend. However, the level of violence and the overall atmosphere of the stories seems aimed at a teen audience; in Crawling with Zombies, one of the main suspects is shot in front of the boys and Break-Up ends with another suspect stabbed in the back. At times the boys and their friends seem very young, especially when they’re squabbling, but then Chet pops up with a diagnosis of the boys’ problems that makes him sound like an adult. While it’s easy to suspend belief and imagine a couple teens pursuing mysteries in the original stories, it’s much harder to believe in a contemporary secret organizations employing teens to fight crime – and a modern father who would allow them to do so.
I wouldn’t put these in a juvenile graphic novel collection because of the violence and more mature themes, but I have trouble picturing a teen interested in picking up an updated Hardy Boys graphic novel, especially one that has too much violence for readers looking for an emotional read and too much emotion for those looking for an action story. If your library has a lot of teen fans of superhero comics, Gerry Conway (who’s well-known in that area) might pull in readers, but otherwise I don’t see a strong audience for this series. Stick to the original Hardy Boys series for middle grade readers who want mysteries and the Undercover Brothers series from Papercutz for older readers who want a graphic novel version.
The Hardy Boys: The New Case Files, vol. 1-2: Crawling with Zombies and Break-Up
by Gerry Conway
Art by Paulo Henrique
Vol. 1: Crawling with Zombies ISBN: 9781597072205
Vol. 2: Break-Up ISBN: 9781597072434