The Plain Janes, Mutation, and Superman (Or, One Of These Things Is Not Like The Others)
Between shopping at the New York Comic Con, shopping closer to home, and winning a stack of Markosia books from the folks at Comic Geek Speak, I’ve been reading a lot of stuff lately. Here’s one longish thought and some shorter ones:
The Plain Janes – A lot of people seemed to have it in for DC’s Minx line right out of the starting gate. Not enough female creators, said some. Stupid name, said others. And maybe these are valid points, but please don’t throw Minx under the bus without at least sampling their wares first, because if the rest of the line is as good as this one, you’ll be missing out on some very good, very fun comics. Written by YA novelist Cecil Castellucci and drawn by Street Angel’s Jim Rugg, it’s the story of teenage girl named Jane who is forced to move with her family from the city to a small, quiet town after she survives a terrorist attack. Convinced of the power of art to change lives and make a difference in the world, she befriends three girls from “the loser table” (who coincidentally all have names that are some form of “Jane”) and ropes them into her new initiative – a guerrilla art gang that sets up installations around town in the dead of night, much to the fear, confusion, and occasional amusement of others.
The story rises above typical high school story fare, and a lot of that falls firmly on the shoulders of Ms. Castellucci. She has a great ear for dialogue and quickly establishes unique voices for not only the Janes, but the entire cast. You might not have known anyone who started an art gang, but trust me, you know these people, you went to high school with them, and you may even be one of them. Rugg’s artwork is amazing, too, and it’s led me to the conclusion that I’ve been skipping Street Angel for far too long. I’ll correct that problem soon. His designs are all very realistic, but they also maintain a sense of the fantastic that I haven’t seen too often before. One page in particular - what is technically a splash page that is actually broken into 4 smaller panels – really stands out in a spectacular way. You really need to see it for yourself to truly appreciate it.
The Plain Janes isn’t a perfect book – I was bothered by one subplot that doesn’t so much get resolved as just sort of stop – but it is a very, very good one, and well worth your comic dollars. I know that the stated purpose of the Minx line is to attract more teenage girls as comic readers, and I’m hoping they succeed there, but if this book is any indication of the line as a whole, crossing age and gender lines won’t be any problem, either.
(Note: this book was advance solicited for May in the February Previews, but they handed out promo copies at the New York Comic Con. So if you weren’t lucky enough to score a copy there, you’ll have to wait, sadly, but it’s totally worth it.)
Mutation Vol. 1 – I talked about reading the first issue of the second mini-series a while back, and I think I mentioned that I was hoping that reading the original mini would help flesh the characters out more and maybe explain what was going on a little better. Well, it doesn’t. It’s all brightly colored, well-drawn superhero punch-ups, but honestly not much more than that. Little depth here, and no real sense of who these people are or what motivates them. I’m not looking for Proust here, but a little Stan Lee wouldn’t hurt, you know? It also bothers me that all the women look almost exactly the same – cute, but with the most evil-looking eyes and grins you’ve ever seen. It took me almost the entire first issue to realize that Mutation’s girlfriend wasn’t also the super-villain he was fighting. Entertaining enough, I suppose, but in a cotton candy sort of way. Don’t expect it to stick with you for long.
Superman: Up, Up, and Away – Yet another rebooting/retooling of the status quo for Superman and company, but this one actually works pretty well. Everything is more or less put back in the same places we remember, but there are still elements that seem fresh somehow, particularly Lex Luthor. I wouldn’t have thought you could combine elements of Elliot S! Maggin and John Byrne’s respective versions of the character and end up with something good, but I’m glad to see that I would’ve lost that bet. And the reintroduction of some of the Silver Age concepts, particularly Superman’s super-powerful intellect and a subtle nod to the one-time team of Luthor, Toyman, and Prankster? Yeah, I’m pretty much the target audience for that sort of thing. As the kids say, I’ve been pwned by Busiek and Johns, but at least they were nice about it. Plus, as an added bonus, everyone’s internal organs managed to stay inside their own bodies. That’s gotta be Busiek’s doing (I know, “Johns as evisceration fetishist” is an overused joke, but some stereotypes become stereotypes for a reason, you know? I’m this close to not letting that Johns boy into my house anymore. He has issues.).