October 2005

Liz Miller

fiction

Street Angel by Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca

The trade paperback of Street Angel has a slick, shiny pink cover, a striking contrast to the red hair of its hero, shown diving into a crowd of friends and foe. But despite its bubble-gum exterior, there's nothing girly about the adventures of Jim Rugg and Brian Maurca's skateboarding ninja heroine. The five collected issues plunge right into a bizarro metropolis threatened by power-mad geologists and time-traveling conquistadors. And only one class-cutting homeless orphan with mad kung-fu skills can save the day.

While the origins of Jesse "Street Angel" Sanchez are hazy with legend, what's not unclear is that her adventures are equal parts hilarious and exciting. Full of twelve-year-old bravado and innocence, Street Angel lays waste to rooms full of ninjas in the time it takes the reader to turn from one page to the next. She plunges down a horizontal air vent thinking "Oh, man... If I survive, I'm doing this again!" And she has no idea what it means to "get carnal" -- though it pisses her off to no end when she's kidnapped by yet another cult who wants to make her a demon's bride.

The danger of satire is getting so caught up in the jokes that you forget to tell a story; there's no danger of that here, though. Characters like an aged blacksploitation hero named Afrodisiac and an Irish astronaut nicknamed CosMic fit perfectly with the crazed world of this story, and even at its most extreme and silly, Street Angel and her characters are all believable and interesting, its world fully realized in a way that two dozen Marvel series can't accomplish.

What works so well is the way in which tone shifts so easily from the absurd to the real (or as close as this universe can come to it). Rugg's clean, simple art is perfectly suited to both comedy and drama, and he and Maurca don't shy away from the fact that their protagonist is both incredibly young and incredibly alone. When Jesse rescues the Mayor's daughter from the evil Dr. Pangea, the girl mocks Jesse's lack of hygeine. When she loses her shoe mid-ninja-fight, she has to go back and look for it. And there's an entire issue devoted to Jesse's dumpster-diving adventures. It's these touches of reality that keep Street Angel from going over the top, and keep the reader invested in Jesse and her world.

The shiny pink cover, the collected mini-comics, and the suprisingly fun guest artist pin-ups make this a super-value of a trade. Will Jesse ever find a home -- or at least a really good cardboard box? The better question is: will Jesse continue to kick ass? I hope like hell the answer's yes.

Street Angel by Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca
Slave Labor Graphics
ISBN: 1593620128
208 Pages