Street Angel – Jim Rugg + Brian Maruca

5 out of 5

Collecting the five issues originally published through Slave Labor, Adhouse Books’ ‘Street Angel’ is a handsome 6″ x 9″ish hardcover with thick white pages that deliciously showcase Rugg’s energetic, often meticulously and amazingly paneled strip about Jesse “Street Angel” Sanchez, who’s homeless, and an orphan, and a teenager, and the biggest badass in town.  Generally each issue will have one main tale – often with a sci-fi theme, and always containing ninjas – and then several back-ups that are gag strips drawn in various homage formats.  The stories are not directly connected to one another, which often results in a ho-hum readthrough (something you can pick up and put down without much thought), but Rugg and Maruca do just enough world-building for Jesse (and her town, and the various side characters) that the setup totally works and is often paced perfectly: that main bit goes on just long enough to wring out funny plot twists and awesome action, and then the palate-cleansing gag strips before you can dive into more ridiculousness.  Part of the key is the mixed tone.  While the book absolutely leans toward the absurd, sometimes we do just get “moments in the life” of a homeless teen, and it sucks.  Jesse isn’t constantly smiles, nor is she without joy.  The ninjas are generally dunderheads (and have their own hilarious little world of turf wars and gang rivalry), but it’s kept in check such that when the action breaks out, we know Sanchez won’t emerge woundless.  There’s also the full embracing of comic / pulp / B-movie history, with nods to blacksploitation, and evil scientists, and time-traveling robots, and ghost girls, and etc. and etc.  The art is simply stunning.  When you hit the title page for book 3, with the name of the story “crashing” out of a window along with Jesse, Rugg has fully won you over: there isn’t a panel that didn’t feel fully considered for impact, whether comedic or action.

Extras include all the variant covers, which are each stylistic homages as well.  No, it’s not Watchmen, but somewhere between the willing crassness of Johnny Ryan and the indie heroics of something like Copra is this wonderful gem of a book, which strikes it with its own confident, fully realized vibe.

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