Ain’t life a kick in the side
MEET Mary Posa, aka Henchgirl. Not terribly sweet, not really sour either. She plies her trade as a supervillain’s accomplice in a city where larger-than-life superheroes, supervillains, and alien/extradimensional threats do battle on a daily (some might say hourly) basis.
It could almost be Astro City, but not quite.
Welcome to Crepe City, a metropolis that was once famous for its pancakes. Then it became “Cape City”, and suddenly a whole new line of work opened up: call it henchmanning, if you will. Just not in front of your English teacher or editor.
And one such hench ... person is Mary, whose family background actually doesn’t make her line of work all that surprising, when you think about it.
Mary is part of the Butterfly Gang, thieves whose big boss is Monsieur Butterfly – criminal genius, and owner of some kind of bug-zapper wand or such. Details are irrelevant in this tale of Mary’s maturing, and so are the superpowers.
How could they be anything but, when one character can eject sentient carrots of varying sizes from her wrists? And don’t get me started on the gallant lad who can astral-travel out of his physical body, which then becomes fragile and tends to, erm, crack easily when he’s not in it. Don’t ask what happens when he goes back.
Nope, Henchgirl is really about the characters, their motivations, hopes, fears, gigantic melancholies, and unfortunately, minuscule mirth.
Life is hard when you’re an underappreciated underling, more so with friends who are well-meaning but maybe a bit hasty to judge, and romantic interests that are – well, easily broken.
It also hurts that Mary has a conscience and draws the line at certain misdeeds, especially when those crimes cause trouble for orphans.
Henchgirl’s story is told with a keen eye and ear for the little details that help to round out fictional relationships and make them seem genuine – exaggerated as they may be here, and as cartoonish as the art is.
Nonetheless, Kristen Gudsnuk does some pretty spot-on expressions and body language. There are times you will immediately sympathise with Mary when all the crap (not crepe) thrown at her just makes her collapse into a boneless pile of helplessness.
The book started out as a webcomic, which then became single-issue publications by Scout Comics before Dark Horse rounded them all up for publication as one volume.
Sometimes, the pace may seem quite rushed given the room afforded by its trade paperback size, but that can be ascribed to its webcomic roots. And sometimes, the leaps in continuity can throw the reader off a bit.
Still, there is an unusual amount of thought put into fleshing out even incidental characters’ fates, nicely told in a collection of “Henchgags” at the back of the book.
All this, however, would not matter much if the reader were unable to muster any sympathy for the central character. Fortunately, this is not a challenge. Mary Posa is one of the most relatable new comic characters around, not terribly convinced that her one superpower (for ordinary folks, “talent”) is such a big deal; underachiever, occasional cheater, unsure of herself, an occasional letdown to her friends and a disappointment to her family – but with a fundamentally good heart.
Ultimately, we like her because we know she’s not really bad, just motivated that way.