I don’t usually read webcomics unless they’re collected, such is the case with Henchgirl #1. The fact of the matter is tracking down good and consistent webcomics can be very time-consuming and with so many other titles coming my way weekly I unfortunately miss out on gems like Henchgirl. This first issue is different from what you’ll typically find on comic shelves for a first issue and that’s a good thing. With most first issues they written with a clear page number in mind. You have twenty-two pages and you basically know from previous reading experiences when the issue is going to wrap. Now with Henchgirl there of course is a cutoff, but because the series hasn’t been written with a page number in mind the pacing is very different. You kind of don’t know when it’s going to end or how because of the ongoing nature of webcomics.
Our main character Mary is a henchgirl for Monsieur Butterfly, a villain that likes butterflies… I guess, we’re not really here for him. The story starts off with him pulling a bank job and Mary sitting in the getaway car texting her roommates who are in the process of watching a movie without her. Their getaway is being interrupted by Mr. Great Guy who gives the Butterfly Buggie a good lashing.
Mary ends up hiding in an alleyway until the police have cleared and wakes up when a costumed vigilante tells her she needs to go to the hospital. She asks him to instead take her home and a hilarious interaction ensues.
There’s a lot of humor in Henchgirl which is its strong suit. The reason the humor works is that the world is ridiculous, but most of our henchers are serious. Mary knows that her job is dumb and silly. This is illustrated when she needs to pick up a new butterfly weapon for the boss and is forced to pay with a butterfly backpack full of money. The guy taking the money says it’s not very discreet to which Mary replies, “I have to keep with the theme.”
Another reason the humor works is because creator Kristen Gudsnuk understands the superhero genre. She knows how ridiculous it is for grown-ups to dress up in costumes and abide by some silly code that ensures they’ll fight over and over again. This is why the “henchers” are so funny as they’re just average joes stuck working terrible and dangerous jobs because they need to pay the bills.
There’s also a very serious side of the story. There’s a hint of it at the very beginning when we see another person on the Butterfly crew potentially taking advantage of the boss’s hero addiction. Then later Mary does something nice which turns into something very, very dark. It’s just a panel, but when I caught it I was kind of shocked. Frankly Gudsnuk is a bold storyteller and I can’t wait to see what else she does with the series as the story progresses.
Now we’ve come to the part of the review in which I gush about the artwork. Gudsnuk’s art is wonderful. I was instantly drawn to this series because of the style. It’s a cross between Scott Pilgrim and Bee and PuppyCat, but at the same time it’s still its own original and unique style. Those examples are just the first two things that came to mind when I really looked at it.
As I said in another review this week, comedy in comics lives and dies with the art. Henchgirl lives. When Mary gets home to her roommates and she’s telling one of them that “Crime isn’t cool” her face sells the joke that follows. Gudsnuk’s facial expressions are a huge part of the comedy’s success.
I was also impressed by the amount of detail to the art and the fullness of the background. Crepe City looks alive which is something most indie superhero titles never get right. If the city your main character is talking about, defending or running amok through only has signs of life when convenient to the plot, then you’ve failed. Gudsnuk creates a living breathing city within this first issue which is just remarkable.
The more I read and looked at this issue the more I liked it. The first time I read it I was a bit tired and missed some nuances of the story. After a second read I have to say that it’s really, really good. If you like superhero titles then you really should check out Henchgirl because it takes a different take on the genre, a take I have seen since Faith Erin Hicks’ Superhero Girl.
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You can hear Dustin talk about Henchgirl #1 on the CBMFP as well!