Friday, April 06, 2007

Painkiller Jane #0

Painkiller Jane #0, April 2007, Dynamite Entertainment
writer: Jimmy Palmiotti
artist: Lee Moder
colorist: Chris Garcia
letterer: Simon Bowland
creators: Jimmy Palmiotti & Joe Quesada

Priced at an irresistible twenty-five cents, Painkiller Jane #0 (volume 2) was published just for me: the comic book reader that has heard of the character, has been intrigued by the concept, but has had little motivation to pursue the title without more incentive. A quarter price tag is motivation enough -- a marketing concept that began with Batman's Ten Cent Adventure back when Bruce Wayne became a fugitive, then time and again for Superman, Daredevil, the Fantastic Four, and just recently Devil's Due Publishing's Sheena, Queen of the Jungle 99 Cent Special, another female character I wouldn't have pursued had the price not been right. This phenomenon evokes a nostalgia for when I first began collecting, when a fresh copy of Amazing Spider-man cost a dollar and venturing into new series wasn't the financial investment it is today. Were all comics really only twenty-five cents a mere thirty years ago? To think, our fanboy predecessors used to fondly remember the days of a dime!

Alas, like any addict, today's comic book fan usually doesn't think twice about coughing up his hard-earned cash for a fix, and in this case, it's nice to chase the drain with a little painkiller . . .

In my opinion, Dynamite Entertainment is on its way to becoming a significant contender in the comic book publishing industry, securing the rights to several hot properties, and most importantly handling and presenting them respectfully. Dynamite's The Lone Ranger series had me at "howdy," and I've never been a fan of Western comics, let alone the Lone Ranger character. While Painkiller Jane #0 didn't have as compelling an effect, I'm definitely more interested in the character than ever before, and I may even shell out the $2.99 for her first full fledged issue. (This post has become less of a review and more of a confession of my self-imposed poverty, but I digress . . .) Off the shelf, I had three covers to choose from, and I opted for Ron Adrian's, which betrays shades of George Perez through a Jim Lee lens. Also, I couldn't help but notice the "Now a Sci-Fi Original TV Series" brand, a project I've been casually following at Comic Book Resources, but that ultimately explains the character's relaunch. In her case, quite literally, it never hurts to try again.

This issue begins with (Spoiler alert! Skip this paragraph to spare yourself the details!) a gratuitous shot of Jane's rear end as she compromises her tattoo parlor stake-out to get some ink done, but more importantly a closer look at her quarry, apparently an undercover den of gun-dealing scum. Jane assures us that her tattoo isn't permanent, as her body rejects foreign agents like lead-based ink and, more commonly, lead-based bullets. Thanks to the inside cover's brief origin synopsis, I know that Jane was once a cop unwillingly subjected to an experimental drug that eventually imbued her with invulnerability to pain, which vaguely but fondly reminds me of my favorite Marvel B-listers Cloak & Dagger. (I'm onto you, Quesada.) Thus, when Jane gets caught in the crossfire between a tattoo-clamoring bank robber, the gun dealers, and the cops, I'm not too concerned for our heroine's safety. Nor does the parlor's explosion at the end of this issue (a cliffhanger for issue #1) grip me as intended; sure, the collateral damage is great, but ultimately, this #0 was just a set-up for the character and her new adventures. She's hot and invincible. I get it. Like every other chick I couldn't afford to date in high school.

Palmiotti's writing is briskly paced -- an eight page story would have to be to make some sort of connection with its readership. Still, since all eight pages take place in a tattoo shop, a presumably detail-oriented challenge for capable artist Lee Moder (who deserves but is denied as much cover credit as Palmiotti and Quesada) the extended sequence is deceptively episodic thanks to the periodic introduction of varied characters, each presumably representative of the usual cast Painkiller Jane encounters in her line of work. While Jane's narration is a bit tedious at times, embittered commentary laced with a no-duh narration, the insight reveals that her persona is just as tough to impress as her skin. A lifetime of getting shot and blown up kind of eases the tension of a precariously dangerous situation, I guess, therefore, the true challenge for her creators is established situations that make her jump. That widen her eyes with the wonder of "how will I get out of this one." As readers, we can't be too concerned for the hero if the hero is remotely concerned about himself (which is why I've enjoyed the first, Kryptonite-centric arc of Superman: Confidential.) Then again, if all of her forays are as propellant as this one, Painkiller Jane might not even have time to blink, let alone think of the trouble that often finds her.

Ah, and therein we find the solution to my initial dilemma. If a comic book series keeps you coming back for more, if it takes you on a rollercoaster ride that, at the end of every issue, makes you exclaim, "Let's go again," you will pay the price of admission irregardless. If Dynamite's Painkiller Jane is just beginning to chug up the tracks, I'll definitely check it out again, especially since this fresh start is the groundfloor of both her new comic book series and forthcoming TV show. Sure, spending twenties of dollars on comic books every week kind of hurts, but a good story is really the best painkiller . . . and a little inexpensive cross-promotion never hurt anybody.

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