By Daniel Vlasaty
When I was in eighth grade I “dated” a girl named Katie. While I was reading Street Angel: After School Kung Fu Special the first thing I thought about was Katie. Which is kind of weird, considering I haven’t thought about her in like 17 years. The reason I thought about her was because she reminded me a lot of the main character, Jesse Sanchez, minus all the kung fu. Although Katie did get into a lot of fights that year we “dated.” Like Jesse Sanchez, Katie was a bad girl. And I don’t mean like “oh, damn, she bad.” I mean like she was just straight up bad. Criminal bad. Like, I remember one time this other girl looked at her wrong, I guess, and Katie threw a chair at her, right in the middle of class. It was funny at the time, but now looking back it was kind of just crazy, really. Or the time she threw a sandwich at the back of Mr. Boswell’s head in the lunchroom. Anyway, I had no idea what to expect when I started reading this book, and here I am now thinking about a girl I “dated” when I was like 14 that I now realize I was really just afraid of. I don’t know, I feel kind of weird now. Thanks Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca.
I had never heard of Street Angel. I guess I thought it was a new thing. But I’ve since learned that this is not the case. It was once and indie comic that became a web comic. And now it’s a comic book again, but it’s also still a web comic. I’ve gone back and read some of the Street Angel web comic storylines since I finished After School Kung Fu Special. And I am really digging this whole thing.
Jesse Sanchez (street name: Street Angel) is a homeless 12-year-old, orphan girl, who is also a master of kung fu and skateboarding. She hates school and dances but loves food. She’s a badass and because of this she has made a lot of enemies.
The story here is a simple one. She is challenged to a fight after school by Jacob. But she’s not worried. Because she’s the most badass kung fu master in the school. And Jacob doesn’t have anything on her. He’s a punk rock kid whose entire existence seems to revolve around the fact that he hates Jesse. And he also seems to be trying to make a name for himself in the school, and the easiest way to do that is to kick the ass of the biggest, toughest badass in the school. It’s the same rule used in just about every prison movie ever made. On your first day, you’ve got to fight the meanest dude in the yard to prove yourself, or else you’ll be everyone’s bitch for the rest of your life. It’s so simple it’s almost a cliché.
But it works here because Jesse’s a great character.
The writing is easy and sharp and you can really sense Jesse’s history. She’s had a rough life and it’s not going to get any easier today. Jesse may only be 12 but living on the streets has aged her, and because of it she is wise beyond her years and sure of herself and her abilities. In a twisted way, I can see Jesse as a role model to other young girls. Maybe someday, when she’s a little older, I’ll introduce my daughter to her.
But I felt that the writing wasn’t really the point of this book. It’s good, like I said, and I enjoyed it, but the plot is pretty thin. Something that could have probably been condensed into three or four or five pages, maybe. This book works more as a character study, to me. This is about Jesse, about her life, about how a superhero/kung fu master deals with the everyday bullshit of middle school.
Jim Rugg’s art is a real treat. It’s simple and bold and seems to adapt to the individual scenes in the story. It’s kind of an amalgam of a few different art styles. Where he really shines is in the fight scenes. They are also simple but stylized and fully realized, inventive and unique. I really appreciated the way he showed movement during the fights. They felt more like a real-life fight scene than a comic book fight scene. None of it was too over-the-top. There isn’t an excessive amount of blood or violence. The whole thing feels kind of light-hearted, but still exciting.
I like going into a comic book completely blind sometimes. It’s refreshing to know next to nothing about a book or the characters within and just enjoy the ride. And that’s what I did with Street Angel: After School Kung Fu Special. This isn’t a deep story or a life-changing story, but it’s fun and interesting and exciting.
Street Angel: After School Kung Fu Special