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Wednesday, January 21, 2004

 

Street Angel #1
By Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca
Published by Slave Labor Graphics

The first new title to grab my attention in 2004 is a scrappy and sardonic action comic about an eighth-grade girl who fights crime on the streets. Jesse Sanchez is a refreshingly blunt protagonist, imbued by Rugg and Maruca with a dry wit and a resigned dedication to battling whatever evil gets in her way. While Street Angel has a sharp sense of its own identity, fans of The Goon, Hellboy, the Brubaker/Cooke/Stewart Catwoman and Brubaker's earlier Deadenders will be extremely comfortable here.

There's a hint of the post-ironic surrounding Street Angel. While Ninjas and a mad scientist play into the plot, the book never takes them seriously -- in fact, two key action sequences are disposed of off-screen, with tongue-in-cheek captions describing the action and quickly allowing the plot to move on. It's an unusual and flashy technique that works better than you might think. If nothing else, it serves notice that the core concerns of the creators are the characters, not the cool ninjas. In fact, the ninjas are anything but cool, with one of them getting his pants stolen by Jesse and being forced to confront his fellow ninjas in his tighty-whities. Funny stuff, and about as far from 1980s Frank Miller as you can get and still have ninjas in the book.

The center of the book is also its greatest asset: Jesse Sanchez is thoroughly engaging and an utter delight. Bright, inventive and a master strategist, she's essentially Mike Baron and Steve Rude's Nexus in the body of an eighth-grade girl. Her self-confidence and uber-competence should serve as a terrific role model for girls and an eye-opening revelation to guys. And in case you think she's being exploited for any possible sex appeal, she repeatedly calls a middle-aged ogler "PERVERT!" with a bullhorn in one of the funniest sequences I've seen in a comic in years.

The story and art in Street Angel share equal responsibility for the delight I took in reading this first issue -- there's a generous use of black ink to define space that echoes artists like Adrian Tomine and even Charles Burns, but the basics of solid cartooning are there as well, with unusual angles, fully-drawn backgrounds and a wonderful sense of movement combining to create a complete world for Jesse to skateboard through.

There's a preview of Street Angel #1 available online and the first issue is listed in January's Previews catalog. #1 ships to comics shops in March. Make sure you tell your retailer you want in on this great new series. It's bound to be one of the most talked-about books of the year, and I hope it finds the wide audience it deserves. Grade: 4.5/5

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