Since we’re all friends here, I won’t lie to you: I only picked up Punk Mambo #0 because of the title. I saw it in a list and went, “shit that’s a fantastic title,” and into my review pile it went. Color me surprised when it turned out to be a Peter Milligan book with a Russell Dautermann cover and it’s in the Valiant Universe. Basically, Punk Mambo is the origin story of an English woman who practices voodou in the Louisiana swamps. “Mambo” is apparently a more socially appropriate term for “witch doctor,” if I’m following? There’s not a whole lot of explanation as far as how a white woman from England became a practitioner of a culture that sprung largely out of the slave trade, but that dangerous can of worms isn’t the focus here. This issue, her spirit guide, Sid Vicious, quasi-convinces her to fly back to England to confront the two people who sold her into magical slavery and Joe Mayhem, the dirty old man (and Mambo, I guess?) who turned her into who she is today.
One of the things I look for in a 0 issue is something I look for in a number 1: where is this story going to go? By the end of the first episode of a TV series, you should have a general idea of what the story is (She’s going to hunt vampires AND go to high school; the Battlestar crew is going to have to find Earth AND fight Cylons; etc); there’s no sense of that at the end of this story. That isn’t to say that it’s not a good story--it has a definite beginning, middle, and end, and it all flows pretty well. I just don’t know why we’re following Punk Mambo. There’s a lesson in every dramatic writing class that you have to ask at the beginning of your story: Why Today? Why is this story happening right now, and not some other point in time? What gives it specificity and makes it need to take place right now? Punk Mambo lacks that sense.
Punk Mambo also stabs for a feminist self-actualization angle towards the end that doesn’t quite fall flat, but when you spend a lot of the episode showing off a lot her penchant for revenge and the spells she can do without focusing on her as a character, it’s tough to pick that thread up right at the end.
The art in this issue by Robert Gill is pretty good. It’s a little bit reminiscent of the mid-90s, when everyone wanted to be Jim Lee, or the current climate at DC, when Jim Lee tells everyone to be like David Finch. The people are all basically studies in anatomy with faces and not a lot of character to them, although that may well be by design. Punk Mambo stands out when she’s surrounded by stiff-upper-lip British folks. The colors on the issue by Jose Villarubia, however, are stellar. This guy knows how to make a bright British street look inviting and friendly, he knows how to make the King’s Road look shitty, he knows how to make a punk club (nowadays) look sad and kind of empty. His colors create a mood that this book desperately calls out for. Thank god for you, Jose Villarubia.
If this book is supposed to draw me into an ongoing series, it didn’t quite hit its mark. If it’s just a side character from someone else’s book that we get a glimpse into their lives for 22 pages, it was pretty good. Very middle of the road.
Writer: Peter Milligan Artist: Robert Gill Publisher: Valiant Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 11/19/14 Format: One-Shot; Print/Digital