By Carter Glace, Staff Writer
One of my favorite properties in literature is Nancy Drew. I’ve always been partial to the mystery/detective genre, but it can be tough to ignore that the genre is hyper-masculine, with most of our signature literary ‘detectives’ being male. So, Nancy stands not only as an excellent example of the genre, but a critical role model for young children.
It’s almost fitting then that the final comic for my month of female creators is a similar breath of fresh air, a mystery series starring an aspirational and utterly lovable female protagonist.
Goldie Vance, written by Scott Pilgrim artist Hope Larson, centers around the titular Goldie Vance, valet at the Crossed Palms Resort in Miami who helps the various residents and employees of the hotel as an amateur detective. Set in the 50’s, the 12 issues thus far have centered around Cold War and cosmonaut shenanigans. For example, the first mystery begins with a missing necklace, which soon draws the attention of Russian Spies and a defecting Communist.
The mysteries themselves are engaging and easy to digest yarns. targeted at a broad audience, the series finds a delicate balance between having enough twists and surprises to entertain older readers and not getting bogged down in minutiae enough to scare off younger readers. The action feels very much in line with The Rocketeer, a very pulpy, retro vibe where the stakes are high but never feel overwhelming for our heroes.
Much like Archie—another poppy, 50’s based comic—the heart of the series comes from the wholesome, golly gee vibe of the characters, and Goldie Vance excels in this department. Every major and supporting character is a homerun. I don’t even know with who to start. Cheryl, who works the front desk at the hotel and is Goldie’s best friend but compares much more to Sherlock than Watson. There’s Arthur, Goldie’s divorced father who runs the hotel and is undeniably likeable despite having to be the foil to all the fun and games afoot. I could begin with Diane, the slick beatnik who Goldie starts dating. There’s Tooey, the hotel’s actual detective who is delightful inept. There’s also her mother, who performs as a live mermaid (which, may I say, is an awesome obscure reference to a real life profession in Florida). Or I could start with Sugar, Goldie’s short tempered pampered rival, who is the absolute perfect foil for Goldie in every way. Every character exhumes charm, energy and empathy, and their interactions, relationships and hijinks are the powerful soul of the series. Their fun jumps of the page and brings you into the gang.
But of course, these characters are merely orbiting the star of the show, Goldie. Goldie Vance is one of the most unique protagonists we currently have in comics. She fits the paragon of the ‘Detective’ perfectly: detail oriented, determined, seeking to help for the sake of helping, never accepting reward but ensuring that the job is done no matter what. But beyond aspirational traits, she’s allowed to be a grounded, human character. She willingly breaks the rules to do what she thinks is best. She antagonizes authority when she believes she’s right. She’s snarky and tough and wild and self aware enough to know she’s in over her head sometimes. She even has a knack and love for fixing cars (there are multiple subplots about derby racing that are simply the most 50’s thing ever). She gets to be a teenager. One of my favorite quotes regarding good detective protagonists goes like this: “They must be a complete [wo]man and a common [wo]man, and yet, an unusual [wo]man. The story is this [wo]man’s adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a [wo]man fit for adventure. If there were enough like [her], the world would be a very safe place to live in, without becoming too dull to be worth living in.” And by those standards, Goldie is brilliant.
And, while I usually spend more time on the art work, but I’ll be brief. I know I’ve already spent my one Rocketeer reference, but Goldie matches that series, retro, simple, poppy, and vibrant style, giving each character and location a distinct energy. Each panel pops with life, making you wish more comics stilled looked like this. But where the series carves its own territory is in the cutsie, cartoony expressions. Every now and then, the style will change in to a hyper exaggerated, more modern art style that helps make the characters some of the most expressive you will see in any comic.
One conversational topic I fear will come up as the comic becomes more mainstream is the ‘sanitizing history’ angle. Afterall, the majority principal cast are people of color in an era that was more often than not dangerous and deadly for people of color (or rather, more explicitly). The series doesn’t really tackle the prejudices of the time directly, keeping it to minimal subtext. But ultimately, I would raise the same point I would for Princess and the Frog—which also played fast and loose with how protagonist of color would be treated—ultimately, giving audiences a powerful, diverse set of role models can under the right circumstances and framing be as important as tackling social issues. How many young, mixed raced, queer detectives do children have to which to look up?
Finding this series almost feels like a revelation, checking off so many of my personal favorites in comics. Diverse and quirky leads, pulpy but wholesome action, vague resemblances to Captain America and The Rocketeer, colorful, simple designs. Despite being only 12 issues in, Goldie Vance is already running at full speed, and at this point, it’s still easy to catch up.
The biggest take away from this month of female creators is that, despite what the loudest voices on the internet say, comics have a huge female base. The democratization of platforms through the web has lead to a lot of horrible, terrible, things, but has also given opportunities to countless female creators who would have never gotten a chance to break through the gate keeping of mainstream comics. And while this exercise is just a minuscule drop in the massive ocean of the internet, I hope it is a reminder that not only does diversity matter, it is also incredibly rewarding.