Ain’t life a kick in the side

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Reads - Re­view by DAVIN ARUL star2@thes­tar.com.my

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.

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