The Con Artist is a lively romp loaded with geek humor. A longtime comic book writer, author Fred Van Lente has a deep familiarity with the annual San Diego Comic-Con, which has become the central event of the comic book industry. Along with all of the associated television, movie, toy, and video game publicity and attention, it makes for a unique spectacle—and a great setting for a quirky and humorous mystery.
Mike Mason, a comic book artist (and the subject of the book’s title) arrives in San Diego to live a nomadic existence, going from one convention to the next. When his rival turns up dead, all eyes turn to Mike, and he embarks on a desperate mission to clear his name and solve the crime.
There are enough geek culture jokes and references to keep any fan happy—one two-page sequence name-drops Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, The Handmaid’s Tale, Black Widow, Spider-Man, and the 1979 Plastic Man cartoon, among others. But Van Lente is able to poke fun at real-life situations, too. In one laugh-out-loud sequence, Mason encounters a religious proselytizer, declares himself a “real big fan” of the Bible, and expounds on it, in geek culture terms:
The scuttlebutt for a long time was that it couldn’t really expand past a small niche audience. But then, you see, they did a really smart thing: a soft reboot between Books One and Two that retconned out of existence a lot of the stranger and more confusing aspects of the continuity.
Mike’s sketches, provided by artist Tom Fowler, add a visual element to the proceedings, and the murder mystery itself is competent, involving valuable original art and the requisite cast of possible suspects. But first and foremost, The Con Artist serves as both a love letter and an expert skewering of the excesses and eccentricities of comic book culture.
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