Steven Grant's new take on a Garth Ennis character continues with Jennifer Blood: Born Again #2 and we have the writer's commentary about the new issue.
I once made the comment that all writing is problem solving. Some people took that as dismissing creative aspects of the work in favor of the craft and mechanics. Had that been what I meant it would've been a conveniently self-serving statement, but it wasn't. Almost all stories require at least some inspiration, something the writer wants to say. (I've seen some with neither, but I don't recommend it. Or them.) It's relatively easy, for instance, to figure out a good opener and a good closer to an action story. Somewhat more difficult is weaving together the connective tissue that carries the story from the former to the latter. That's the problem any story presents to you
Middle issues of limited series can be especially troublesome, especially in action stories where pointless action is an easy page-filling fallback and there is always the impulse to combat a feeling of emptiness by playing your hand too early. These are also problems you need to solve.
Then each story presents unique problems. Jennifer Blood isn't living in the USA when the story begins, but the action takes place in Los Angeles. She's thought dead by the authorities, making it easy for her to avoid capture, so assuming she's not just an insane thrill-junkie looking for an excuse, which is maybe not the best option for a heroine – what's a credible motivation to get her back in the world? Complicating things in Jen's case was the end of her first series, which left her somewhere in Alpine Europe. Had they left her in the USA, Born Again would've played out differently, but I saw no reason, with all her missions done and motivations sated, she would've returned to America where the chances she'd be caught were maximized.
So… a violent impersonator resurrects the Jennifer Blood name, forcing the real Jen to have to deal with it before the law targets her again. But it's the curse of episodic comics that the problems you solve create more problems to deal with as you progress, bringing us to #2…
The mob war in Los Angeles continues. Mobster Paulie McEnery seems to be reveling so much in his newfound power that he doesn't realize he has made himself a target for everyone trying to get to "Jennifer Blood." A little suspense and abrupt action to get the story's blood pumping some. McEnery is an egotistical, manipulable clod in the first issue; that he's either too narrow-thinking to realize the danger he has put himself in or believes he's above it now is right in character for him. But who's watching and attacking him?
The narration is juxtaposition, by the real Jennifer Blood, continuing throughout the story and the series. It somewhat solves a problem that didn't hit me early enough: traveling cross country by car, there's not much place for her in the issue. Fake Jen's plot to take over the Los Angeles underworld won't be put on hold just so Real Jen can make a five day road trip. So what to do with her? "Overlay narrative" is a device I haven't used in a while, but used to use on Whisper all the time. It has no direct relation to events portrayed in the panel – how can it, when the speaker is unaware of the events? – but consists, usually, of more general if unrelated observations or storytelling that "intersect" with the pictured action.
Played right, it can add texture to a scene or story through juxtaposition while allowing whatever character is narrating a voice they wouldn't otherwise have.
The use of characters speaking in foreign languages without translation is something I started doing in Whisper years ago. Any errors in translation are mine. If they're all Latino, as in this scene, why wouldn't they speak Spanish to each other when alone, especially when the essence of the speech is easily conveyed by the pictures? Whether it works or not I'm unsure, but hopefully it sets a tone…
(Inside joke: Paulie McEnery is named for an old friend of mine, with his permission. Hi, Paul!)
A little festival of basic reversals. On page 1, we don't know who's observing/attacking McEnery; its mobsters, introducing pivotal character Latino mob boss Santiago, by proxy. McEnery isn't McEnery but a patsy. (I realize now I never mention who it is or how he got there – whoops.) The trap set by Santiago's men for McEnery is really a trap set for them by Fake Jen. The sequence is intended to reinforce her lethal skills and strategic nature, a nod to how Garth handled Jennifer Blood originally and a suggestion that Fake Jen is perhaps what Real Jen used to be and has lost.
It also hopefully reaffirms her as a credible foe for Real Jen.
My favorite sequence in the whole series, initially prompted by the realization that modern air security makes it very difficult for a wanted person like Jen to travel quickly. Originally I'd planned to just have her fly into Los Angeles, then realized she couldn't even fly into the USA. There's also the armament question, since she can't fly with those either. She doesn't know Los Angeles, wouldn't know where to arm herself there without drawing attention, and she's not stupid enough to wade into the situation unarmed. That means familiar territory. So she flies into Canada, smuggles herself into America, heads for her old stamping grounds.
The sequence scratches a lot of itches. She plays on her own legend, to terrorize her intended victim, and to cow the witness she leaves behind. It demonstrates her capacity for altruism, duplicity, cruelty, manipulation, her unsentimental worldview and capacity for merciless violence and, if a bit ironically, mercy. It's pretty much the full summation Jennifer Blood's character as I see it.
The first cracks in the McEnery-Fake Jen alliance as she's used to being obeyed and his tastes are changing with his new status. Fleeting traces of Fake Jen's backstory. The quiet introduction of another pivotal character, Emmett, a hired killer on Real Jen's trail.
Two problems at this point: didn't want to keep Jen out of her own book for too long, didn't want to just keep having Fake Jen off mobsters ad infinitum. Most of FJ's activities are better covered in dialogue. Figured it was a good time to give RJ a little side adventure on her travels. Kind of like boxers working off ring rust after they've been out of action a while. Interstate highways, especially in the vastnesses out west, are well known prowling grounds for serial killers. Not enough space to set up a complex character, so it's an easy justifiable homicide, and a little more behavioral analysis of RJ.
Oh, yeah. She's not kidding about the knife. It's a throwaway line that has a payoff down the road. That's what throwaway lines are for, to not really be throwaway lines. (Unless they really are throwaway lines.)
Furthering the McEnery-FJ breakdown, as the limitations of their relationship become clear and they start plotting against each other. A lot of underworld politics involved here; these are all twisted relationships. A bonus for me is the opportunity to spell out the mystery hitman's situation a bit more, contrasting it with the totally non-ethical nature of McEnery-FJ; the structure and ethics of his business border on irrelevant here, just a nice little character bit, but they have more import in future issues.
And we end up with RJ, arriving in Los Angeles. It's a bit lifted from a joke Larry Hama told me years ago, about what to do if you walk into a bar and discover it's a biker bar. You scope out the biggest, toughest biker in the bar, walk right up to him, make rigid hooks of your thumb and first two fingers, jam your fingers through his eyes and your thumb into his mouth, squeeze as hard as you can, and rip his face off.
This gives you a jagged weapon to use against the others…
Anyway, quick establishing that Los Angeles is nothing RJ's used to coping with. A lot of Easterners hit L.A. and just can't fathom how the city works. Having lived both there and in New York, I guarantee there are vast differences between the cities.
Speaking of biker bars, this is the payoff to the throwaway line on pg. 9.
The issue ends with Real Jen, confidence on the rising, happily falling into familiar patterns while not quite recognizing them, where she made plans that fell into place like pachinko balls. As the series is about making the choice between letting go of outdated behavior or letting it destroy you, it's not too much of a stretch to assume things go a little wrong next issue…
By the way, there really is a Trader Joe's up the road from that bar, on Colorado Blvd…