November 3, 2021

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Friday, Book One: The First Day of Christmas by Ed Brubaker, Marcos Martin, and Muntsa Vicente

Friday, Book One: The First Day of Christmas TP
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art and Letters by Marcos Martin
Colors by Muntsa Vicente
Published by Image Comics (originally published digitally by Panel Syndicate)

Did you read Nancy DrewHardy Boys, or Encyclopedia Brown stories when you were a kid? I definitely did. They were so much fun. It was incredibly rewarding to try to figure out the mystery. But even more than that, I loved reading stories where kids were smart and capable and could figure things out for themselves. I loved the idea of kids my age going out there, taking risks, solving mysteries (particularly since I was a pretty risk-averse kid myself). But what happens when those kids grow up? A 12-year old running around solving mysteries seems cute and precocious; at 18 years old, it seems odd. And what if one of your dynamic duo of mystery-solvers wants to just grow up and do normal teenager things, and the other one doesn't? Well then, it could get pretty awkward.
 

That's the basic premise of the absolutely wonderful Friday. First published digitally through Panel Syndicate, this volume from Image Comics collects the first 3 issues of Friday. For anyone who ever enjoyed reading those kid-mystery stories, or for anyone who ever grew up and moved away from home and then came back and it was weird, this is an absolute delight to read. Artist Marcos Martin and color artist Muntsa Vicente perfectly create a charming, snowy New England town where weirdness is lurking just under the surface. And writer Ed Brubaker's script brings to life a wonderful combination of teen angst, self-awareness, and genuine mystery and terror.

 
It's December, 1973 (Live and Let Die was in the theater earlier that year). Friday Fitzhugh has taken the train home from college for winter break, back to the charming New England town of Kings Hill. She's nervous about returning home, particularly with regard to her best friend Lancelot (Lance) Jones. They've been friends for years. But not just friends, crime solving partners. Theirs was a partnership like those classic Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew stories. But people get older, and high school senior Friday Fitzhugh wanted to know if there was anything more between them than being friends and crime solvers. But Friday doesn't even have time to go home before she is swept up into solving a mystery alongside Lancelot and Sheriff Bixby. There are definitely weird, scary, and surprising things going along in Kings Hill. These first 3 issues show the mystery just opening up, while also providing some important history between Friday and Lance.
 
Friday is really such a fun, engrossing story. I immediately felt pulled into the world of the story, and so much of that is thanks to the artistic team of Martin and Vicente, who have worked together many times before (Daredevil, The Private Eye, Barrier) and are just seamless, holistic storytellers. There's so much going on in each page, the art is really immersive. To start, Martin is (as you hopefully know) just an exceptional artist and storyteller. He's been drawing extraordinary comics for a very long time (his interpretation of Spider-Man is among my favorite interpretations of the character). Martin does not skimp on the details on every single page. This story really made me think of a New England town in winter, and also really brought to life the early 1970's (a little before my time, but I am pretty familiar with it). 
From the streets to the trees to the buildings, Martin does not skimp on any important detail. You just know you're in incredibly safe hands with Martin as a storyteller. Not to say his storytelling "safe" by any means - just, from panel layout, character acting, facial expressions, and general world-building, there are few (if any) artists I'd trust more than Martin. In fact, Martin makes a lot of creative, out-of-the-box choices. His character design in Friday is more exaggerated, less realistic, and a little more "cartoony" than you might be used to from his superhero work. It took me a little time to adjust, but I've come to really love it. These character designs feel very impressionistic and are exaggerated in strong ways that convey character. Friday herself is a little blocky and angular, conveying her hard, strong quality, Lance Jones is more slight and boyish, conveying his innocence, and (frankly) his need to have someone like Friday around to ground him and protect him from others and himself. 

And Martin, as in many prior collaborations, has a fantastic partner in Vicente. Munsta uses a flat coloring technique that suits the older setting of the story and really gives the art a clasic and timeless feel. The colors are rich and bright and, while not "realistic", in most scenes they feel very real. Such as in the panels shown here, the color of the snow and the trees and the sky, contrasted with the glare of the flashlight, really creates the sense of walking through the woods on a snowy night. In other parts of the story, Vicente is equally adept at creating mood and atmosphere through color, such as sequences that feel more like a horror story, or pages that feel like a psychedelic vision. In all of these cases, Vicente's colors bring the story to life. 
 
There are some double-page spreads where Martin completely changes up his style, using a much more strictly realistic, documentary style (when depicting legends or historical events). In those pages, Vicente provides great, complementary colors, conveying an "aged" feel appropriate to stories from a long time ago. It really feels like Martin and Vicente are having a lot of fun, as they're doing a ton of different things in the pages of Friday. Including, showing the covers of fictional books  that one would image would be the covers of the books about the adventures of Lancelot and Friday.  
 
And Ed Brubaker is just the person to tell this story. Brubaker is a fantastic storyteller (Criminal, Velvet, Captain America, The Fade Out, Reckless) who is equally adept in telling noir mystery, horror, espionage, crime, and superhero stories. So I'm not surprised that he's telling a terrific story that blends mystery with coming-of-age. He really conveys quite effectively the grounded human struggles amidst all of the mysterious and horror elements. Growing up is hard. You grow and change, and the people around you do as well. But they don't necessarily grow and change in the way or at the rate that works best for you. And Brubaker really conveys the ideas that it's both hard to leave home and hard to come back. You go away, you change, you have new experiences, but you come home and everyone just thinks of you as the exact same person you've always been, and expects you to just fall into old routines. 


There are a lot of great ideas in Friday. So, come for the stunning art and mystery story, and stay for the coming-of-age and relationship drama (and again, the absolutely remarkable art).