Or – “From Out Of The Asylum…”

Bluewater Productions gave us the initial Insane Jane miniseries back in 2008, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the book.  All at once fun, vaguely silly, and truly chilling, the Insane Jane mini introduced to a young girl named Jane who wanted to escape her humdrum life by becoming a superhero.  The familiar premise went places that no one could have predicted, and ended with Jane having an entirely new life, albeit not the one she might have chosen…

Insane Jane -Avenging Star #1
Writer: Darren G. Davis & Zach Hunchar
Pencils: GMB Chomichuk
Cover Artist: GMB Chomichuk
Published by Bluewater Productions

Previously, on Insane Jane: Jane was a mousy young thing who wanted nothing more than to be amazing, spectacular, invincible and other adjectives that Stan Lee was fond of.  A chance encounter with a convenience store robbery changed her life forever, filling her with zeal to save the innocent and become… The Avenging Star!  With her homemade costume, Jane patrolled the streets fighting evil (or whatever passed for evil.)  Her first interactions with a villain called the Shadowy Man sent Jane into a spiral of tragedy as bad things began happening all around her, leaving her life forever changed.  After her initial foray into superheroics, Jane (whose last name I’ve searched for and can’t find in my copies of the original miniseries) has been left with scars physical and emotional, orphaned (through means that you honestly HAVE to see in order to believe) and under professional psychiatric care in an asylum.  That is where this story begins…

My first impression of this book is how DIFFERENT the art is from the first mini.  In her initial outings, Jane was drawn in a style that is reminiscing of Scott Kurtz work on ‘Captain Amazing,’ a soft-edged cartoony art style that evoked a sense of fun and wacky adventures (and really set off the climactic horrors of that first series nicely.)  Jane herself was always presented in full color, while the people around her and her day-to-day grind were all black and white, a device that worked very well.  This issue’s art is a whole new ballgame, an impressionistic, almost photo-collage that reminds me favorably of the work of Dave McKean and Bill Sienkiewicz.  Jane starts the issue in her padded room, hallucinating her wonderful battles as The Avenging Star, before remembering that it’s all hallucination.  “I need to make a change,” thinks our heroine.  “I don’t want to end up like SOME people here…  They’re crazy!”  Heh…  Given that she says this with her face still scarred by her own actions, there’s some black humor in that statement.

Indeed, there’s black humor throughout the issue, introducing (possibly) a new inmate named Grant who seems to share her love of costumed characters.  Insane Jane has a really impressive stream-of-consciousness freakout halfway through the book that ends with her deciding that the nurse who gives Jane her daily meds is the source of all her troubles…  and Nurse Gayman MUST BE STOPPED. Jane and Grant become partners in crime, and the issue ends with them making a run for the border in a beautifully illustrated sequence.  To be honest, the whole issue is visually stunning, changing the black-and-white to color motif of the first Insane Jane miniseries and swapping it for a new dichotomy:  the backgrounds and bit players take on the pea-green cast of the institutional paint used at the asylum, while Jane gets a lively pastel palette, and her hallucinations are drawn in a harsh (but appropriate) blood-red color.  The issue also goes places that I never expected, places that the usual “hero feigning madness” stories could NEVER have attempted, allowing us to see something new and different that characters firmly established in a regular superhero reality simply wouldn’t be able to do.

My major concern with this issue is the VAST gulf in tone and art-style from the previous Insane Jane series, a change that could be off-putting to anyone who loved the cartoon adventures of the girl in the homemade cape, but even that doesn’t undermine how neat the visuals are.  Setting this “superhero” character in an entirely mundane, real-world setting gives her a depth that could be fun to watch the creators play with, and I like the joy that she takes in her hallucinated hero adventures.  It is, admittedly, a dark tale (though not yet as dark as the climax of the first miniseries) and as the first issue of four, it may not accurately portray what the whole mini is really going to be about, but it does give you enough to get you interested in who this girl is, what’s up with her backstory (a bit of business that is touched on multiple times, but never explicitly spoiled in the issue) and what kind of mischief she might be able to get into.  The test of success with any title (but especially with many independents) is “Does this story remind me too much of anything else?”  Aside from some naming similiarities (Crazy Jane of the Doom Patrol is similarly themed, but a completely different take, while Painkiller Jane… um…  exists.  I’ve never read any of her stories, but I have it on good authority that her conceptualization is different) this book isn’t a take on somethin we’ve seen before or a love-letter to another body of work.  There’s still some (probably intentional) ambiguity regarding Grant and his motives, but overall, it’s an engaging book that I went through more than once just to goggle at the art.  Insane Jane – The Avenging Star #1 is interesting, visually stimulating, and creepy-in-a-good-way, earning 4 out of 5 stars overall.  Bluewater Productions just got this one on my pull list…

Rating: ★★★★☆

(Insane Jane – Avenging Star #1 will be available in August 2010, and can be ordered out of the current June 2010 issue of Preview.)

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: Why do so many comic fans seemingly buy their books based on publisher?  All Marvel titles aren’t alike, all Image titles aren’t alike, and in this day and age there’s little to no distribution gap to force you to pick one publisher over the other.  How does one justify picking something up just because of the DC swirly or the big red R of Radical Publishing?

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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1 Comment

  1. Amy
    July 31, 2010 at 1:49 pm — Reply

    Dave McKean and Bill Sienkiewicz? Are you kidding? All the previews of this work so far look to me like photoshop amateur hour. How do you get Dave McKean out of this? This artist uses stock photos converted to black and white and hits the stamp filter effect in photoshop, end of story. If you are going to review artwork be more knowledgable about the art process, look at the artists other graphic novel which is not mentioned here but equally display this…style? Or lack there of. Your comparing apples to oranges and saying they taste the same by dropping these master artists names to describe this.

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