Sunday, October 12, 2008

Janes in Love: We'll have to assume that they all lived happily ever after

Quick link:  Check out Plok's "Kirby Zodiac", with a Jack Kirby character for every sign.  Good stuff.

Janes in Love
Written by Cecil Castellucci
Art by Jim Rugg



Much virtual ink has been spilled about the demise of DC's Minx imprint, and while I don't really have anything new to add on the subject, I will say that it's a shame, since books like this deserve to get wider recognition.  The line had its ups and downs, but it seemed like there was some good quality content coming, as if they were finally getting their act together and figuring out exactly what sort of comics they wanted to publish.  And like that , it was gone.  Sure, the last few books will straggle out, and maybe a few (at least one more volume of The New York Four, please) will find homes elsewhere under DC's umbrella, but the initiative is over.  Looks like the kids will just keep reading manga.

But that doesn't mean we can't look at the extant Minx books, especially this highly-anticipated (by me, anyway) sequel to the line's very first entry, The Plain Janes.  That first volume had a notorious non-ending that completed only the most minimal of plot resolutions or character arcs, mostly leaving everything up in the air.  Given the chance to finish off the story, Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg don't make that same mistake; this time around, they manage to flesh out their characters more, work in some new internal and external conflicts for the main group of characters, and finally bring the whole thing to a satisfying close.

As the volume begins, Jane and her friends are still trying to beautify their small town through "art attacks", but increased scrutiny from the cartoonishly mean local sheriff are making it hard for them.  At the same time, the Valentine's Day dance is coming up, so they all have the dilemma of finding dates and getting caught up in teenage crushes.  Main Jane isn't sure what's going on with her relationship with Damon, the boy who helped her with P.L.A.I.N. and got caught.  And to add more drama, Jane's mom is getting more nervous about safety, and after an anthrax attack that kills an old journalist friend of hers, she shuts herself up in their house and refuses to leave.

After more and more trouble involving the legality of their art attacks (they are technically engaging in vandalism, after all), Jane embarks on a quest to obtain a grant for their art and transform an empty lot into a public garden, showing maturity as she attempts to move beyond childish prankishness.  It's a nice development, and it makes for a good main plot for the book.  But the other, minor plots work as well, especially the one that gives the book its title.  All the Janes get lovestruck in one way or another, and they have varying levels of success, which creates tension within the group.  Sports-loving Polly Jane gets agressive right off, approaching a boy and informing him that they are now dating:



But the other Janes aren't as straightforward, and PJ's excitement at having a boyfriend just alienates them.  That's the kind of thing that makes for high drama for teenagers; while it seems pretty low-stakes to those with the distance of age, there's no such thing for the high school set.  That also gives Main Jane's weirdly standoffish relationship with Damon an air of realism; while they obviously like each other, for whatever silly adolescent reason, neither of them can work up the nerve to actually talk to each other about it.  That might not make for the most explosive drama, but it's something that everybody can recognize as true-to-life, since we've all gone through similar experiences at some point.

There are other nice moments, with Jane's quest to find a way to both make her mother feel safe and realize the beauty of Jane's efforts being especially poignant:



Not to mention the interaction among the Janes, who all act like close friends that care about each other.  And a climactic scene at the big dance makes for a great payoff to all the long-burning storylines.  I could have done without the near-psychotic villainy of the bad-guy sheriff, and a plot about Brain Jayne making a boy-attracting pheromone is a bit too silly for a book like this, but none of these are deal-breakers or anything.

While the plotting is pretty good this time, Jim Rugg's art might be the real star here.  He did a nice job on the first book, but he takes it to a new level here, giving all the characters a nice expressiveness and putting together some really effective layouts.  He even adds some manga-style flourishes that give a punch to some key moments:



It's a great-looking book, and while it's a shame that Castellucci and Rugg won't be able to continue the series, hopefully they will both be able to take what they learned here and apply it to plenty of more good comics in the future.  Hey, it was sure fun while it lasted, wasn't it?