By Daniel Vlasaty
In case you didn’t know: Jesse Sanchez, AKA Street Angel, is a lot of things. She’s a thirteen-year-old orphan. She’s been called the world’s best homeless skateboarder. She’s also a master of kung-fu and other fighting styles. She’s been known to hate school, but loves food and will pretty much eat anything and everything. I had never heard of Jesse Sanchez or Street Angel or even Brian Maruca and Jim Rugg until the Street Angel: After School Kung Fu Special hardcover was release recently from Image Comics. That book was silly and ridiculous and everything I love about comic books. I went out and searched for more of their work, found some older Street Angel collections, read some of the original web comic stories, loved it all. And I was super excited to see that the crew of Maruca and Rugg had another Street Angel book coming out. This is a review of that book. The book is called The Street Angel Gang, and it’s about Street Angel maybe or maybe not trying to join a gang.
Jesse Sanchez is still homeless. Nothing has changed for her there. She’s still got her trusty skateboard, a slew of enemies, and some of the best fighting skills the street of Wilksboro have ever seen. Street Angel is a name that is whispered in the shadows, a name that people tell stories about, a name that strikes fear in the hearts of bad guys or whatever, and blah blah blah. The Street Angel Gang starts out with Jesse fighting a man-sized spider monster thing. After this fight, she learns that a local gang, The Bleeders, is looking for new recruits, and they’re having try-outs. And there will be snacks. And that’s all Jesse needs to hear, her decision made with the simple mention of snacks. Again, Jesse loves food, and there isn’t much she won’t eat. Except for lima beans.
This is, essentially, the premise for The Street Angel Gang. There’s some more to it obviously, but the whole book is fueled by Jesse’s desire to never stop eating pizza. (Also, she’s homeless so she probably doesn’t get to eat hot pizza often). The rest of the story is basically a series of challenges the recruits have to complete to get into The Bleeders. They are judged and scored with little Xs and stars on a dry erase board in the gang’s main office.
The writing here (the story is credited to both Maruca and Rugg) is light and fun and funny. The whole book reads like a parody of 70’s and 80’s gang movies. There isn’t anything groundbreaking or world changing here. But I’m good with that. These are actually the types of stories I’ve grown to enjoy and seek out more and more lately. Fun little escapes. There are a few laugh out loud moments and the “punchline” at the end was unexpected and nice. But ultimately I was left kind of wanting more out of the story. It was almost too breezy, if that makes any sense. Maruca and Rugg, over time, have created this great character and placed her in a messy and scary and weird world. It’s a world full of human-sized spider monsters and ninjas and badass homeless teenage girls. And I can tell that they are having a lot of fun playing with and exploring this world in these short little, non-linear stories. This all comes through in the story, and it is enjoyable. But I just felt like there wasn’t much of a pay-off at the end.
Think about it for a second. There’s this insane gang called The Bleeders, and all their members are always drunk and fighting and screaming and wearing ridiculous costumes. But we only get that surface stuff. They’re just background characters. I’m not saying that I need to know everything there is to know about them. But I feel like they could have been explored even a little. The Street Angel Gang is a one-shot hardcover, so we’re (most likely) never going to get anything else with these characters and I just would have liked to have been able to spend more time with The Bleeders. I actually thought they were more interesting than Jesse Sanchez here. I really like her as a character but she seemed slightly flat here, too. There wasn’t any depth to her in this story.
Rugg’s art is light and fun and never too serious. The stand-outs in this issue for me were the character designs on the other gang members and the smaller background details. The settings were good too. But I really like the way he handled the crowds, especially when they were all talking and shouting. Instead of having dozens and dozens of word-bubbles, he just had the words, sans bubbles. Overlapping and in different fonts, like individual voices, all jumbled together. I thought it was a nice touch. The color-palate was more washed-out and drab, kind of like you’d expect in this setting. But there were pops of color that really stood out and exemplified certain things. It all makes for an interesting looking book, gives it a scratchy, punk rock, slapped together feel. Kind of like a zine. The way Rugg illustrates fight scenes, though, is still my favorite. They are messy and blurry and scrappy.
I hate to admit this, but like most people I only have a finite amount of money. And an even smaller percentage of that is set aside for comic book purchases. So when I go to the comic book store every week I sometimes have to pick and choose the books I buy. And it’s based on a number of factors. And one of them is do I feel like this product is worth the amount of money listed on the price tag. (This is where it can get tricky – because I’m a writer myself and I think writer, and artists, should be paid a fair price for their work; but I’m also poor and can’t afford to spend an exorbitant amount of money on books and comics and other things). And I’m just going to come out and say it here: I think the $19.99 price tag is going to turn some people away. It’s a lot of money for what is essentially a single issue of a comic. Maybe the price would have been slightly less if The Street Angel Gang wasn’t a hardcover but that’s not the case here and I think it might be hard for some comic buyers to drop twenty bucks on thirty pages of story and some back-up material. I don’t know. I could be wrong. Shit, I hope I’m wrong because I did enjoy this book.
The Street Angel Gang