Unpredictable, Unstoppable & Unforgettable
Welcome to Wilkesborough, a district definitely on the rough side of the tracks, and it seems aptly named after John Wilkes Booth, US President Lincoln’s assassin. Its streets, pavements, alleyways and dumpbins are home to an unlikely junior heroine, Street Angel. Like a lot of youngsters in comics, from Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne to Little Orphan Annie and Tintin, Jesse Sanchez has been orphaned and has had to grow up fast. She’s reinventing herself and her life, living by her own rules, finding unexpected inner resources and survival skills.
It’s no coincidence that artist Jim Rugg pays homage here to Harold Gray’s spunky Annie, another red-headed, big-hearted defender of the little guys in the big city. The secret origin of Street Angel’s uncanny skateboarding techniques and combat chops is discreetly revealed in a profile page here, as the sole surviving offspring of a graceful “ninjina” or female ninja and a “Skate Lord”. Their deaths are what drive someone so young and seemingly vulnerable to extraordinary extremes. This adds a depth behind her bravado, when we learn that “her earliest memories are of the people closest to her dying.” A loner, Jesse has no canine companion like Sandy or Snowy, nor adults to join her in her adventures, no Daddy Warbucks or Captain Haddock. Her most constant and trusted partner seems to be her skateboard.
Prepare also to enjoy a condensed, intense, hugely enjoyable mash-up of pop-culture tributes and genre pastiches, embracing pirates, sci fi, martial arts, horror movies, and the musty aroma and faded, dot-coloured newsprint of cheap comic books. Co-creators Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca can deftly switch in an instant from the fantastical and visceral to the mundane, using understatement, irony and pitch-perfect one-liners, like “Where’s my shoe?”. This is a telling remark after some pumped-up fight scenes, one that grounds us back in the reality that Jesse may only own one pair.
Rugg is a chameleon of an illustrator, able to riff on all manner of art styles and their evocative associations, in particular the Blaxploitation hero Afrodisiac, his generic look typical of Marvel comics of the Seventies. Rugg and Maruca are evidently having a lot of fun here and it’s infectious, whether playing with stupid pirate slang or inventing comic-book titles like Amazing Irish Funnies. And through it all, slicing, slamming and soaring without wings, is Street Angel - unpredictable, unstoppable, and unforgettable.
Posted: May 1, 2011
This article first appeared as the introduction to the French edition of Street Angel from Le Lézard Noir