Monday, October 03, 2005

SPX Reviews-3 Street Angel

After a lovely weekend here in Philly, I am back with another review from the haul of comics I got at the SPX con.
Todays review is of Street Angle by Jim Rugg (artist) and Brian Maruca (writer) and published by Slave Labor Graphics, the publisher of such fine fare as Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and more.

I admit, Street Angel slipped right past me, I think I had read about SA here or there, but with my visits to the comic shop infrequent, sometimes a couple of months between visits, a lot may slip past or go unseen, or be sold out by the time I get to the store. I missed the first two issue of Rocketo this way, and I guess I need to have them pull stuff for me, but frankly I get lazy about it. My retailer, Showcase Comics is a good one, and they do try and get anything I ask for and have a very well stocked shop. But still SA isn't a book that unfortunately will pull X-men numbers, so it would be easy to not have a copy on the shelf when I stroll in every 40 days or so. It was Mike Hawthorne who clued me into this great fun comic, even going so far as to say he'd buy it back from me if I didn't like it. So I'm thinking, well this better be good!

When I attended the SPX con Jim Rugg was one of the artists I put down to seek out and find a copy of Street Angle. Jim was a super nice guy and we chatted for a spell, it turns out he's another Darkhawk fan...who knew?...and when I wanted to buy the trade he said he couldn't sell it to me, as it was the last one he had at the show, so I asked if he could save it and sell it to me at the end of the con, which he did. Jim also had some swell looking prints of Street Angel and his other character Afrodisiac for sale. When I saw the print of Afrodisiac I knew I had seen Jim's art before and dug it in the Project: Superior Anthology put out by Ad House, which I picked up several months back.

Anyway SA is an awesome fun ride with her tung firmly planted in her cheek, fist in some ninja's jaw and her feet on her board. Rugg and Maruca give love props and poke fun of Kung-fu action and Blacksploitation and Marvel comics from the 70's without resorting to cliche and also without being limited by trying to be "retro", something many comics who derive direct inspiration from past eras do. They seem to smartly cherry-pick or add the spice of past eras where they need to. The name Street Angel even sounds like something Kirby would have coined. So while the trappings may seem retro, SA is truly modern. Maruca and Rugg also draw upon one the chief strengths of comics, the ability to make the absurd work. In a movie it would be very hard to pull off time traveling pirates, Ican gods, ninjas and the Son of God all in 90 minutes and have it make any sense, not seem like a fever dream, a cluster fuck of 12 screen writers. The strength of comics is that drawings can make make the unreal, real, the fantastic all blend and seem logical, fun, seem natural, make it work.

The Scene with Street Angle and Christ in the church had me physically laughing, something that few comics do, humor or otherwise, and when I am laughing while holding a comic I am usually laughing at a bad drawing instead of laughing with the artist. Rugg's work veers between a certain brushy-pulpy lushness, especially effective on the rundown back streets of the city, at times it reminds me of a bit of Joe Sinnott's lush lines, Romita Senior or even Mike Allred, sometimes even a pulpy Dan Clowes, the art being far more lush towards the end of the series. Here and there through the series he'll do a really close-up, lovely rendering of SA, which really gives us readers a real portrait of her a personality, unlike the cracked hip, broken-backed, balloon boobed soft-core porn most heroines are today. She got moxie and she's 12 years old, maybe the averegae babyman can only relate to the love-doll looking herione, SA seems real, not a babyman whack fantasy. She's underage anyway.

I imagine this book could appeal to girls and fans of Tank Girl. Maruca's dialog captures the same snappy appeal Stan Lee's had without trying to hit you over the head with it like so many who also tread in that vein. It's a fine line to be sure, I have to say the dialog also reminded me much of the approach used on The Venture Brothers, another successful use of the retro as modern. The characters are hip enough without crossing the line, so there's a more urban, modern awareness to the writing and the characters, who at times seem to almost acknowledge they are indeed in a comic without breaking the 4th wall the way they do in Scott Pilgrim. So we know we are in the now, or almost now, alternate now and not running down the alleys with Street Angel in some weird 70's action comic. I have to say more super hero comics should be as clearly told as SA is, you know who she is, what's she's about in every story, something I can't say I feel when reading most modern comics, I always feel like the glass is half empty most of the time. I have to say I probably also liked it more by reading it in the collection than I would as single issues. The collection is a pretty quick yet satisfying read, and like any good meal leaves you wanting some more when the plate is empty. There are a few weak spots, I would have liked to see a bit more authenticity with the pirates and ships, an better focus/eye contact between the characters in the compositions, and sometimes figures seemed a bit rubbery, Rugg definitely improved as the issues progressed, and his style congealed more. I don't know what the future holds for SA, Rugg told me he is planning more stories with Street Angel in the future as well as Afrodisiac. I hope those comics are coming soon as I really enjoyed this romp. So Street Angle gets 4 Stars from me.


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bustedacres said...

Mike--thanks for the review of STREET ANGEL.

I think this is actually the way the retailing system is going to change over time; reviews are now reliable and free, and you can be turned on to something by a friend or someone expressing his own opinion freely (and for free, as opposed to the hype-tastic Wizard kind of thing).

STREET ANGEL looks great, so I'll buy it. My big recommendation is G0DLAND, which is a riot and delivers all the things I loved about Marvel in the 70s without being simply retro. Tom Scioli is definitely doing a Kirby pastiche, which initially turned me off, but the book is so much fun that I've actually grown to love it.

I say check that one out, and if you're not already familiar with the Paul Grist stuff like JACK STAFF, that's a great pseudo-under-the-radar book, too.

South Park Junkie said...

This post was really long and I had a pretty hard time reading all of it, but I really have to say I like your review. This comic sounds cool. It's original and much better than the superhero crap which has been done ad nauseum. After Marvel and DC and all those other Babyman comic books dominating the market this is a nice change. I've read your blog, and have seen lots of posts where you rant about Babymen and talk about how Manga is going to replace Superman/X-men whaterver. It's finally good to see comics that are appealing to people other than 10-year-old boys and 30-year-old virgins living in their moms' basements that whack off to Wonder Woman comics.

Mike M said...

Busted, yes I've herad some about Godland, so maybe I'll try and pick it up when I get to the store the next time. I hope by me doing reviews of things I like and enjoy it will help spread the word about these good books, which are often under ordered and ignored by the babymen and the babymen retailers, I guess I could call the babysitters!

SPJ, Yes, there are good books that should appeal to you out there, more now than 5 years ago, but they really struggle with low sales, poor distribution. Manga has already replaced superheroes as mainstream, only in the comic shop is that reversed. Next time you go to the store I might be able to recommend something. Which store do you go to or live near?

jimrugg said...

Mike, thanks for the nice review. Very awesome. I appreciate it.

I agree with the above posters about Godland. It's a very promising new series and it has a very committed creative team, so it could continue to improve.

I also love Paul Grist's work, but I would recommend his Kane trade paperbacks over his Jack Staff work. His cartooning is exceptional.

Has everyone read Mignola's Amazing Screw-On Head? If not, track down a copy. It's a couple years old but Dark Horse rereleased it within the last year (I think). It's fantastic.