"Scoop" is a winning introduction to a new teen super-sleuth
I'm a sucker for a good story involving journalism. As a former journalism student myself, there's just something about the newsroom that's so enticing and alluring. Whether on film or in print, I love to read about reporters who get a hot lead on a story, overcoming any and all opposition to simply get the truth out there.
As a formula, the idea of a strong, smart reporter is incredibly malleable and adaptable to pretty much any type of situation. Heck, journalism has been a part of Superman's story from day one, and he's a dude who can move planets and punch out Darkseid. So even in the midst of the fantastic, the people who bring us the news can always find a place.
Another winning formula is the "junior detective" trope, which is present in properties like the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown, and even Scooby-Doo. The idea of "the little guy" using their wits and smarts to solve problems and overcome the doubts of adult superiors. We all like to imagine ourselves as the underdog from time to time, and there's a certain satisfaction in seeing even a fictional character rise above their circumstances and triumph.
Especially when their opposition is a smug, condescending jerk who totally deserves their comeuppance. Who doesn't love seeing that?
With the new graphic novel Scoop, Insight Comics have a brand new heroine who blends both the "investigative reporter" and "junior detective" tropes into one charming, incredibly likable protagonist. While the story itself takes a while to get anywhere, the effervescent charm of the main character makes it well worth the read.
Sophie Cooper is a pretty normal teenage girl, if you don't take into account her family circumstances. When we first meet her, she's trying to nab an internship at a local news station. While you'd be tempted to think that she's doing this because she's a bright, enterprising young woman, you'd only be half correct: Sophie needs it because she needs to log some community service hours. She's very bright, don't get me wrong, but she's also fallible. She hit a fellow student at school after they taunted her, so she clearly has a bit of a temper. She's not some perfect golden child; no, she feels like a real human being.
Why was she being bullied? Well, it turns out her father has been under house arrest for several months after being framed for extortion and fraud. He whiles away his days on the couch, cracking well-meaning jokes while his long-suffering wife works to provide for the family. Their house is constantly surrounded by paparazzi, vultures hoping for a glimpse at the man inside or a juicy sound bite to run with their stories.
It's not an ideal situation for anyone to live in, so it's understandable why Sophie would be so tense. She's a remarkably well-realized character, and she almost single-handedly makes the book reading on her own. Using her smarts as an aspiring journalist, and driven by the unfair slandering of her father's name, Sophie helps to solve a murder mystery that may both help clear her dad and get the station she's working for back in the game. Not bad for someone trying to avoid suspension.
Her supporting cast is likable enough, though nobody is quite as developed as Sophie herself. The secondary characters who make the biggest impression are Hal Ritz, an anchorman, and Kit, Sophie's little brother. Hal is kind of a blowhard, and if he's to be believed he's broken every major news story from Watergate to the O.J. Simpson trial. Kit is a typical wunderkind: quippy and a genius with all sorts of machinery. While Kit does often teeter on the edge of unbelievability, he never fully goes over, thanks both to his good chemistry with Sophie and his unexplained but totally understandable love for Hall & Oates.
Sophie and Kit's parents have some personality, but her mom never comes across as much more than stressed and her dad seems almost aloof with maybe a touch of worry and melancholy. Their kids are fun to read about, so hopefully they'll get more to do and become more realized in future installments. The camera crew at WHIZ, the news station Sophie interns at, have a few good scenes with Sophie, and there's a state trooper named Firewalker who could potentially serve as Sophie's (reluctant) Jim Gordon. Still, besides basic introductions, we don't get to know much about them.
Richard Hamilton's writing is pretty solid, though the story does feel a little "television series piloty". That's not surprising, considering Hamilton has an extensive history in television. It's not really bad either, I just wish the story had been a little more focused in points. It does a great job of introducing us to this world, the cast of characters, and ongoing plot threads, but that keeps the book from standing entirely on its own. This is definitely part one of an ongoing story, not a standalone adventure with the potential for more. Again, not inherently bad in any way, just don't go into it thinking everything will be answered by the end.
The visual storytelling is pretty excellent, with strong, confident pencils from Joseph Cooper and nice colors from Peter Pantazis and Alba Cardona. The book is presented in a more square "prestige format" style, unlike the more rectangular dimensions of a regular comic book, so the page layouts are a bit different than you may be used to. This allows for some wider panels, so it almost has a "widescreen" look since the environments can be as wide as they are tall. The book is fairly dialogue heavy, so there aren't many action beats.
The action that's there moves smoothly and has a nice energy, but most of the book is investigation and conversation. Thankfully, the visual style is interesting enough on its own that the dialogue-heavy scenes never get boring. Cooper's characters have life and personality on their own, and he uses visual comedy to great effect. One of my favorite scene involves a fish-man appearing from the waters of a swamp, ominously rising above the marshy fog to... point someone in the right direction. It's a great sequence with a genius sight gag, and I laughed so hard.
Now that I've mentioned the fish-man, I should probably explain it. And really, I wish I could, but it's one of those plot threads that's introduced and never really resolved. There are paranormal concepts that are hinted at, and the entire murder mystery is resolved through... some sort of time travel. Which also helps to exonerate Sophie's father. As I said earlier, the book is left open for future chapters that will likely explain some of the weirder aspects of the story (it even ends with a stinger for the next book in the series), but I wish that the resolution had been a bit tighter.
No matter, though. Scoop is a fun, breezy book that's perfect for middle-grade readers. It benefits greatly from its lead, who is one of my favorite new characters to come along in some time. Sophie Cooper is smart, relatable, and engaging, and because of her this book is too.