I’m going to tell you a story about myself. Not because I need to prove that I was there first, but because it’s what we all like about comics and reading in general. In comics we often make the mistake of making this elitist in nature, the “I was reading that at the beginning.” My how that’s changed over the past few years with the constant rebooting nature that has developed in the world of comics. That’s not the story I want to tell you. I first read Hopeless Savages because I was looking for more Blue Monday. What I mean by that, is that I was looking for more things like Blue Monday which used to be published by Oni Press (I’m still bummed that it’s moving over to Image). Blue Monday was the first comic I read that was written and illustrated by a female creator and I found it to be so refreshing that I wanted more. I wanted this different style and perspective that I was reading and that lead me to Hopeless Savages.
A series that I absolutely loved. It didn’t hurt that the creator of Blue Monday was one of two illustrators on the first series. In many ways, Hopeless Savages paved the way for how a lot of comics are constructed today. If you look at Valiant’s books, a lot of them are constructed in a way that there are two timelines running throughout the story giving the opportunity to have two artists on the book. That’s the way Hopeless Savages has always been constructed and this volume is no different.
Well we’re four paragraphs in and you probably want to know something about the book. Zero is in college and has been forced to see a shrink due to a ploy by her roommate that she dislikes. Through this opening we learn that Zero isn’t quite herself and not meshing with the college life. Shen then walks us through her family’s life so we can catch up with the family and extended family. In a bit of brilliance, we hear what Zero thinks of her family, her honest take and it’s like most of us… delusional. She thinks her family is all put together when really they’re all struggling and unraveling in their own way with their own challenges.
After getting caught up with everyone we take off with Zero and the Dusted Bunnies on tour. There they run into a rival that they didn’t know they had. At first they think it’s a local pride thing as their show is sabotaged by “free beer”, but then when the same band shows up at their next gig and covers a song on their set list the night before… well things get a bit more serious.
One of the many things I enjoy about this series is the family dynamic. This is the family you want to be born into and if you can’t have that then you want it to be the family you become. What’s even more impressive though is the way Jen Van Meter balances everyone. Aside from Zero, there’s her two brothers and sister, their significant others, her mom and dad and her boyfriend. Then add the Dusted Bunnies and the new characters and this ensemble cast is just massive and yet impressively balanced. The Justice League isn’t this balanced. The X-Men aren’t this balanced… hell Wolverine before his death wasn’t this balanced… get it because he was in everything. Van Meter focuses on Zero, but paces the rest of the family at just the right beats.
Without spoiling anything I will say that there is a family moment which really captured the idea of family in my opinion. It felt genuine and really tied everything about this fictional family together. I doubt I can describe it well enough, but it’s like when I go home for the holidays and there’s this moment between all the big events and traveling that just feels right. It feels like everyone is where they need to be and doing exactly what they should. That’s what the moment near the end felt like. Overall Van Meter brings something new to this series. It doesn’t feel like she’s just returning because hey it’s been some time and it’s a franchise that people know. She clearly had a story to tell with these characters still and the amount of emotions in this story are just incredible. It’s an emotional journey on many levels and I’m sure that people will be able to relate on some level to one or more of the characters.
The art is great. Okay, it’s really great. I’ve only just this year been exposed to Meredith McClaren’s artwork, but I’m already a big fan. My one and only gripe is that somewhere near the end is where I recognized her style. It started looking a lot like Heart in a Box, which isn’t bad, but it just wasn’t as consistent as the look was in the beginning of the OGN. Even then, I don’t think it was bad, it was just something I noticed. I placed the art after that having not paid any attention to the names on the cover.
McClaren’s work here is very clean and all black and white. There’s grey scale used for her parts which I think is just part of her style. It works incredibly well and really brought something new to the series. It’s been a while since we saw anything from this series so it’s good that it was updated on many fronts because it shows the growth and experience of the creator.
Also on art is Christine Norrie. She’s the flashback artist and the backup story artist. Her style is completely different, but then also an incredible fit to the world. I don’t mean this next bit as a slam, but her style was a bit Archie-ish, but imagine that handling a punk rock family and their kids. It was pretty great and she’s a hell of a visual storyteller as well. The backup story could have easily come off as filler, but instead it became this rather cute and enjoyable story all on its own. I actually cared about the characters and a lot of the driving force behind it was the art.
I waited all year for this book and I wasn’t disappointed. I was actually blown away by how damn good it is. Again, not to be an elitist, but to make a point; it’s nerve racking when a property you enjoyed years ago returns. You don’t know if you’re going to feel the same way about it now as you did back then and even more worrisome, you don’t know if the creators are going to capture that same magic after so long. Van Meter not only captures the magic of what made Hopeless Savages so great, but she updates it. She makes it approachable for new and old readers and she exposes us to some great artistic talent that we may never have heard of otherwise. Hopeless Savages: Break is not only a great addition to the series, but it’s a great graphic novel that stands from all of the others released in 2015.
Hopeless Savages Vol. 4: Break Writer/Creator: Jen Van Meter Artists: Meredith McClaren, Christine Norrie Publisher: Oni Press Price: $17.99 Release Date: 11/25/15 Format: OGN; Print/Digital