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Street Angel Volume One
posted July 8, 2005
 

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Creators: Jim Rugg, Brian Maruca
Publishing Info: Slave Labor Graphics, $14.95
Ordering Numbers: 1593620128 (ISBN)

I want to write about this book in greater detail later on, but for the sake of audiences and shops that might be considering buying/stocking the trade version of Brian Maruca and Jim Rugg's Internet darling comic book series, I can say I enjoyed it. For the most part, Evan Dorkin has it nailed in his introduction: the closest thing this can be compared to is the 1980s marriage of genre tweaking and idiosyncratic expression that gave readers titles like Zot! and Nexus, a mini-tradition that's continued at least as far as Mike Mignola's Hellboy series and can be summed up in the following: the embrace of genre-soaked action-adventure as a vehicle for personal expresson through tone, theme and the values of craft that go into it.

It's not as seamless an act of creation as the best of its forebears, however, even if takes reading them all together like this to notice. Street Angel Jesse Sanchez is a homeless young girl equally skilled at skateboarding and large-scale ass kicking. She has what at their core is a pretty standard set of superhero adventures mitigated by a small number of humorous twists on adventure story convention.

What distinguishes the book are 1) those moments it fully embraces action-adventure elements like fight scenes and comedic interplay between characters 2) the way artist Rugg plays around with the various ways of depicting various scenes and set pieces. There are so many elements of different cartoonists' styles that show up in various panels, it seems, some that Rugg engages head on and others that slip in the back door, that it's hard to tell where he's working with a fomal influence and where he simply is solving the same problems in a similar manner. The formal play at times can be really intense -- a story about a '70s superhero named Afrodisiac is told partly in abandoned frames from the older, imagined comic books starring the character, in addition to more traditional jumps in pacing that come from shifts from smaller panels to spreads. A slower story about an average day in the life of Sanchez, complete with dumpster diving and the like, brings with it an enjoyable pace and allows the artist to include several nice drawings of urban locales.

The concept seems a bit too thin and the fantasy elements too forced to support the ambitions on display during the comic's execution. Whimsy is the most difficult element to sustain in any story, and the jam-packed nature of the concept begins to sort itself out into what works (Street Angel's sullen authority) and what doesn't (the homeless aspect, in the end) in a way that doesn't flatter. There's too much going on here, whereas most of this type of work functons best when a slow reveal of the setting and characters, or even making it up as one goes along, is the rule. I could definitely see each creator moving on sooner rather than later.