We’re in the midst of our Spotlight on Middle Grade fiction, and I can’t think of a better time to showcase a webcomic about a tween detective embarking on a spooky adventure. This week’s Webcomics Wednesday pick, Oddity Woods, opens on chase though an eerie forest, which, for all its pink and purple shadowing, still exudes a healthy amount of creepiness. An unnamed kid, wearing a lab coat and googles, is running after a train, and a hulking, horned creature with sinisterly empty eyes is running after him.
We abruptly leave this storyline behind, and move to a cat-themed manor, where a murder has occurred. A pair of detectives (one comically grandiose) is investigating the death of a wealthy baron, who was poisoned while playing a game of poker. But this whodunit is more of a red herring: the murder investigation is where we meet the hero of the hour, Marietta, who’s no stranger to the detectives investigating the baron’s murder, and she seems to have an uncanny knack for solving their cases for them.
But she’s after more than just helping the detectives solve the murder. Marietta’s father is a private investigator, and he’s been missing for months. His cases keep piling up, and Marietta has been taking it upon herself to look into them every now and then. Recently, she received a particularly mysterious letter, which seems especially important, and she knows she needs some expert help.
But the Phantom Train mentioned in the letter is little more than a ghost story in her town, and the detectives scoff at the idea. It wouldn’t be a middle-grade mystery without an undeterred, precocious kid detective, of course, and Marietta bravely takes off on her own into the ominously named Departure Acres. When she finally makes it to the train platform, however, she discovers exactly why the Phantom Train is a ghost story.
In addition to the ghostly passengers, Marietta runs into the mysterious kid from the opening scene, Wyatt, and he tries to dissuade Marietta from boarding the train. But stubborn Marietta is determined to solve her mystery, and she alights the “Passaway Express” in spite of Wyatt’s warning, and Wyatt, concerned about her safety, jumps on after her.
Wyatt’s warnings are prescient, and almost as soon as they board, they meet the dangerous train conductor—the very same creature who had been pursuing Wyatt at the beginning of the comic. Wyatt and Marietta have to take on the nefarious conductor’s dangerous puzzles in order to stay aboard, and they cleverly use their detective skills—and Marietta’s magical magnifying glass, which belonged to her father—to solve them.
The twisty plotting, well-timed jokes, and artful panel layouts make this comic a treat, especially given D.’s obvious love of rich, warm, saturated color. Her cartoonish figures exude plenty of personality, which enriches the narrative, and her sense of movement makes each scene lively and dynamic. Oh! And there’s a really cute ghost dog.
There’s plenty of mystery yet to be solved here—where’s Marietta’s father? What’s Wyatt’s deal? Where will the Phantom Train end up?—and with puzzles, chases, and comedy already on the table, it promises to be an entertaining journey. Oddity Woods updates on Mondays and Fridays.