As a big fan of Cartoon Network’s Regular Show, I’ve had somewhat mixed feelings about the BOOM! Studios comic series. While they’ve had solid talent attached, I’m not sure that an ongoing book is the best fit, especially since the storylines tend to get stretched and decompressed in a way that’s dissimilar to the show. Couple that with occasional characterization missteps, and it hasn’t been exactly what I’d hoped for.
But Noir Means Noir, Buddy, the Regular Show graphic novel written by Rachel Connor and Robert Luckett, with art by Wook Jin Clark and Fred Stressing and letters by Shawn Aldridge, is just what the doctor ordered. It’s a solid, self-contained story that capitalizes on the best concepts of the show but also uses a number of devices that work best in comics. It’s denser, in terms of plot, than all but the most baroque episodes of the cartoon, but it doesn’t drag or feel out of place. It’s a solid translation from screen to page while still bringing a new perspective.
Noir Means Noir, Buddy follows Mordecai, Rigby and the rest of the park employees as they try to solve a seemingly minor mystery (Pops’ socks have disappeared), which, in true Regular Show fashion, grows to become a conspiracy involving worms, ninjas, car chases and knockout gas. There are a fair number of moving parts to it, but what sets it apart from even a very good cartoon episode is the structure of the book.
Early on, Mordecai and Rigby get into a fight over what kind of movie they want to watch, with Mordecai preferring old black and white noir films his would-be girlfriend CJ introduced him to, and Rigby pushing for the kind of bombastic buddy cop movies they’ve watched together forever. It’s a funny interaction that’s also resonant in the way a lot of Regular Show relationship stories are. But when they decide to split up and tackle the case from different angles, their preferences color the entire story, splitting it into two different kinds of pastiche.
Noir parodies have been done a lot, to the point that I almost roll my eyes when I see one coming. But all the elements click here, from Stressing’s muted, mostly grayscale colors to Aldridge’s typewriter-style font in the narration boxes. Long, slow detective scenes with a lot of voiceover aren’t especially suited for a frenetic cartoon like Regular Show; in a comic, on the other hand, they fit perfectly, and set the mood without feeling drawn out. Splitting Mordecai and Rigby up for so long is a solid choice for this adventure as well, since it lets us see other sides of their personalities when they’re not playing off each other. Teamed up with High Five Ghost and CJ, his crush, Mordecai becomes much more introspective and thoughtful…
…While Rigby, working with Muscle Man, becomes even more spastic and cocky. The splashy, technicolor Rigby segment of the book isn’t hugely different from the kinds of insane stuff that happens like clockwork on Regular Show, but it’s a great contrast to the measured, planned investigation tactics Mordecai and crew have been using. Rigby doesn’t think in narration boxes, or think much at all. He and Muscle Man spend most of their time kicking down doors and basically need to have clues handed to them. It’s goofy and occasionally frustrating, as any good Rigby-centric story should be. Plus, it gives Clark plenty of opportunities to draw that weird Rigby face where his nose is pointed up and he looks like a furry shark, and I always love that.
As a solo story, the book manages to walk the line between referencing a lot of classic Regular Show episodes and being accessible to new or casual fans. The main cast is represented well, with lesser-seen characters like CJ and Eileen getting solid roles, and everyone is broad and in-character enough that it’s easy to get a handle on them. Benson still gets mad, Muscle Man still takes his shirt off and yells, Mordecai is still overly anxious and doubtful around girls, etc. Crowd scenes are packed with old “monster of the week” characters, but it doesn’t feel like the sort of hyper-specific fanfiction stuff you might imagine. Even a scene with the chops-busting forensics investigators isn’t reliant on having seen that episode; it’s just a nice nod to RS continuity.
Noir Means Noir, Buddy is the way Regular Show comics should be done. It’s a tight, fun story that’s very much in keeping with the tone and voice of the series. At the same time, it branches out in execution, playing with narrative conceits that are unique to comics. It’s a great read for fans of the show and open enough for newcomers.
Regular Show: Noir Means Noir, Buddy is available now from BOOM! Studios.