By Cameron Hatheway
Just what is it about Wilkesborough that attracts not only a certain element of crime, but also the special heroes who selflessly sacrifice themselves on a daily basis to keep its residents safe? Back in the 1970s it was a far out bad brother named Afrodisiac keeping the jive turkeys and President Nixon at bay, and now the mantle of Angel City's guardian angel falls on Jesse "Street Angel" Sanchez' shoulders.
While Afrodisiac's irresistible charms always got the job done, Street Angel's arsenal consists of merely a skateboard and mad kung-fu skills. Not too shabby for being a 12-year old orphan girl living on the streets. While other orphans were able to rely on the wealth of guardians and dead parents to lift themselves up from poverty (Annie, Harry Potter and Bruce Wayne come to mind), not Jesse Sanchez. So instead of wandering the streets aimlessly whining 'woe-is-me,' she accepts her situation and makes a name for herself, battling ninjas, ancient gods, and evil scientists just to name a few.
Street Angel was the first collaboration between Brian Maruca and Jim Rugg before the duo went on to publish the Eisner-nominated Afrodisiac. If the name rings a bell, it's because Street Angel was originally published by Slave Labor Graphics and pre-dates Afrodisiac (in fact, Afrodisiac's first appearance was actually in Street Angel #5). Because of the raging success of their second book, Maruca and Rugg wanted to introduce a new generation of readers to their first kick-ass hero that helped pave the way.
This edition of Street Angel is larger than the SLG edition (6"x9", same size as the Afrodisiac hardcover). The art has been digitally retouched in some cases for this new edition so it looks as good as Rugg can make it look. It contains all of the comics that appeared in the SLG edition, plus a few that have since appeared after that collection was published. There is also a color section at the end of the book that reproduces the covers and some other artwork in color as well. Because the book is stark black and white, Maruca and Rugg actually used the same paper that was used in Charles Burns' Black Hole to make the artwork pop even more. And when you have epic, mesmerizing fights happening between Street Angel and time-traveling pirates, you want to make sure you can absorb every awesome thing with your mere-mortal eyes.
Rugg's intricate art style makes reading the book immensely enjoyable, for the man can definitely illustrate in multiple styles. Page after page he keeps the reader amazed, highlighting the complete badassery that is an orphan girl and her skateboard kicking tremendous amounts of ass. Combined with Maruca's clever storytelling, and I almost couldn't comprehend the genius of some scenes. When pirates attack the city in one story and the ninjas come to keep the threat contained, I had no clue I was walking into a Pirates vs Ninjas scenario and loved every minute of it. And yet, because of this world that Maruca and Rugg have created, every threat thrown at Street Angel seems so practical. Violent Satanists out for blood? Sure, bring it on. Demented scientist who wants to bring the continents back together? Seems legit. Finding food to keep from going hungry? Okay, perhaps not so simple in comparison.
That's one of the things I loved most about Jesse; she's still a 12-year old girl living on the streets who can go hungry at times. While she still attends school and hangs out with an interesting choice of companions, she's still homeless and susceptible to hunger. Maruca and Rugg aren't standing on a soap box shouting about the homeless youth problem, but just mentioning it every once in a while throughout the book reminds the reader that it still exists in our own societies, which is a sobering thought.
Fans of Afrodisiac will be pleased to know that the king of the concrete jungle does make an appearance, and fights side-by-side with Street Angel against some radical gun-toting rednecks. I was a big fan of Afrodisiac when it first came out, but after reading this collection of Street Angel, she's definitely giving him a run for his money.
The hardcover will be released in early August, but those attending Comic-Con at the end of the month can find Rugg in Artist's Alley at table II-10. He'll have a limited edition Street Angel sketchbook and a limited edition black & white zine of his recent commissions, drawings, illustrations, and commercial work available for purchase.
Be sure to skate down to your local comic shop this August and pick-up your copy (or skate online over to MonkeyBrain). What's next for Maruca and Rugg? Maybe they'll make readers go bananas for USApe.
Street Angel (AdHouse Books)
By Brian Maruca & Jim Rugg
176 PC pages, $19.95