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Originally published Tuesday, January 11, 2011 at 9:58 AM

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Comics: Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys graphic novels are delights

Gerry Conway lends his expertise.

Scripps Howard News Service

Papercutz is relaunching the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys graphic novels — and the first volumes of each are a delight.

The "Hardy Boys: The New Case Files No. 1" ($6.99) installment is titled "Crawling with Zombies," and revolves around new phenomena like zombie walks and social media. It also presents something new for the Hardys, but as old as Cain and Abel: the normal competition and resentment between adolescent brothers.

This budding rivalry comes across naturally and organically, so much so it has that "why didn't I think of that?" quality. But it's no surprise why it's done so well, as "Zombies" is the first in the series by new writer — and comics legend — Gerry Conway. Conway, the co-creator of The Punisher and former writer of virtually every major comics character, has also written loads of television, including a stint as story editor for "Law & Order."

And why has this award-winning, veteran scribe signed on for Hardy Boys graphic novels? Turns out he's a fan!

"Working on the Hardy Boys in graphic-novel form is the fulfillment of a childhood dream," Conway said. "The first book I ever owned was 'The Mystery of Cabin Island,' and it inspired in me a love of fiction that continues to this day."

Conway asserts that the Hardys are "iconic American heroes — as iconic as Superman or Tarzan." He ought to know, having written most of them, from Spider-Man to Batman.

"Like all iconic heroes, they're both larger than life and human-sized," he said. "As a boy, I saw my own imagination and eagerness for new experiences reflected in the adventures of Frank and Joe (and, of course, Chet); they were kinds of kids I wanted to be. When I realized I wasn't going to grow up and become the world's greatest amateur detective like Frank or Joe, I decided to become the next-best thing: Someone who'd write about their adventures. Luckily, it only took me 50 years to get there."

Conway is joined by Paulo Henrique, who illustrated the last eight books in the previous series. Henrique draws in a manga style, but doesn't let his chibis and such get too intrusive.

Meanwhile, "Nancy Drew: The New Case Files No. 1" deals with another pop-culture fad. "Vampire Slayer Part One" ($6.99) riffs off "Twilight," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and other bloodsucking, bump-in-the-night fun. Writers Stefan Petrucha and Sarah Kinney handle Drew's pals George, Bess and Ned as a sort-of bumbling, off-brand Scooby Gang, which had me occasionally laughing out loud. He also fleshes out the star's personality a bit, allowing her social clumsiness to energize the plot as often as her obvious brilliance. Artist Sho Murase draws manga style, but with the breathless forward motion of Western storytelling.

REPRINT ROUNDUP

Another discovery this week was less pleasant.

When Dark Horse began the "Mighty Samson Archives" a few months ago, I wondered briefly why I had so few issues of that series from the 1960s, unlike Gold Key's other major super-doers, Solar, Magnus and Turok. With "Mighty Samson Volume Two"($49.99), I remembered why.

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The first volume reprinted the first six issues of "Samson," which were entirely by writer Otto Binder (Captain Marvel, Superman) and artist Frank Thorne (Red Sonja). They were absorbing, as they were when I read them originally in 1965-66.

This volume, however, only has one story illustrated by Thorne, No. 7 — the last of my original collection from the 1960s. And why I quit buying "Samson" is now obvious, in that issues 8-14 (which flesh out this volume) are by artist Jack Sparling, whose work I have never enjoyed. The stories still have that Binder sparkle, but for me the fun is tamped by an artist whose sketchy over-rendering couldn't overcome his inability to draw basic anatomy — such as eyes that line up on the same plane.

On a happier note, writer Mark Millar has been carefully setting up a new status quo for the Dark Knight for several years, culminating in the new "Batman Inc." title, with hordes of Bat-characters — not only in Gotham City, but around the world. The main thrust of that setup took place in "Batman and Robin,"and now issue Nos. 7-12 of that series have received the deluxe reprint treatment. B&R Vol. 2, "Batman vs. Robin"($24.99), definitely deserves it, as both Morrison and artist Cameron Stewart have done some top-notch work.

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