Friday, July 18, 2014


Story: Andy Hartnell | Pencils: Nick Bradshaw
Digital Inks & Colors: Jim Charalampiois | Letters: Comicraft
Assistant Edits: Kristy Quinn | Edits: Scott Dunbier
Danger Girl Created By J. Scott Campbell & Andy Hartnell

Following a seven-issue series, a one-shot, a two-issue series, and three more one-shots (including the BATMAN/DANGER GIRL installment which I'm not covering in this project), all published roughly annually between the late nineties and 2004, DANGER GIRL returns in 2006, settling into the format which will become the standard for its continuing adventures: the four-issue limited series. This is also the first DANGER GIRL story in my review series (again excluding BATMAN) written by Andy Hartnell alone, with no credited plot input from series co-creator J. Scott Campbell. And Hartnell accomplishes himself nicely without the aid of his co-plotter.

The story finds Abbey and Sydney dispatched by Deuce to track down the Roadkillers, a motorcycle gang in South Dakota, to recover a stolen Sioux indian artifact called the Black Seed -- a skull dating back to the battle of Wounded Knee, believed to hold the power to resurrect the dead. The girls go undercover as motorcycle enthusiasts, befriending a "biker chick" named Ruby and enlisting the aid of her own gang, the Black Widows, in their mission. The girls learn that the Roadkillers have been hired by a mysterious cabal led by an elderly fellow calling himself "the Gentleman", who is also assisted by former Hammer Empire agents Kid Dynamo and Mr. Giggles. The quest eventually concludes in Boston, where the Black Seed is destroyed, but the Gentleman escapes.

Along the way, we get interludes in Sweden and Tokyo, where Secret Agent Zero and Johnny Barracuda are on their own respective missions which eventually tie back into the plot with the Black Seed. It's nice to see both men working independently from the Danger Girls for a portion of the story. In fact, just about the entire second issue is devoted to their exploits. In particular the spotlight on Johnny is refreshing. Lest we forget, he is a highly-accomplished CIA agent -- but every time we see him in action, it's as second fiddle to the Danger Girls -- which is fine since these are their stories -- but it almost makes him feel like a "Danger Boy" rather than an American agent.

So this time we get to see Johnny solo, pulling his James Bond routine, undercover and dressed to the nines at a gala in Tokyo, where he seduces a female Japanese business mogul on the way to his goal. Agent Zero, meanwhile, is shown executing villains right and left with every implement at his disposal, from throwing knives and automatic weapons to hand grenades. When the pair meet up and work together, their "Odd Couple" relationship is genuinely enteraining. I particularly like the way Zero refers to Johnny as "JB", a nickname which, to me, indicates at least some respect for the cocky CIA agent.

Other highlights of the series include a completely gratuitous scene at the beginning where Sydney loses her top while riding her motorcycle and then fights a rattlesnake to get it back (with the snake's skin eventually adorning her cowboy hat for the remainder of the story), plus a glimpse at Abbey's home life. Apparently when not on Danger Girl duty, she lives in San Francisco (I wonder if she's a Giants fan?) under the cover of a Yoga instructor, in an apartment crammed with relics and antiquities kept as souvenirs of her past adventures. Obviously, living in the Golden State does not mean she was originally born there or even spent much of her life there, but it's still interesting to me that she resides in California after we learned in KAMIKAZE! that Valerie apparently hails from the same state. You'd think the creators would want to diversify a bit.

The return of Kid Dynamo and Mr. Giggles, now dressed as motorcycle gang members, is a fun inclusion as well. And their working for the Gentleman foreshadows his true allegiance, as we learn at the story's conclusion that his ultimate goal for obtaining the Black Seed was to resurrect the late Natalia Kassle -- a plot line which appears to be reaching fruition this very year in the pages of the latest DANGER GIRL mini-series, MAYDAY (to be reviewed here as soon as the trade paperback is released).

Hartnell continues the recurring trend of having a secondary, one-off female cast member join the Girls for their adventure. In this case we get Ruby, an appropriately designed biker chick, replete with piercings and tattoos, who -- though you wouldn't tell by looking at her -- is apparently half Sioux. Her Sioux mother has been coerced by the Gentleman into unlocking the Black Seed's secrets, which forces Ruby to sabotage Abbey and Sydney before ultimately joining forces with them for real following her own murder at the Gentleman's hands followed by a resurrection thanks to the Black Seed. In classic DANGER GIRL cheesecake fashion, Ruby spends the entirety of the final battle wrapped in nothing more than a bedsheet while firing a machine gun at the bad guys. In the end, it is Ruby and her mother who finally destroy the Black Seed and thwart the Gentleman's plans, thanks to a distraction created by the Danger Girls, Johnny, and Agent Zero.

The story's conclusion at Daytona Beach finds that as part of her biker cover, Sydney now has a tattoo of a barracuda, obviously in honor of Johnny -- hinting yet again that she really does care for him -- on her pelvis, and that a photograph of her, taken by a trucker during her "wardrobe malfunction" at the first issue's outset, has appeared in a topless calendar -- prompting concern that her "cover is blown". It'll be interesting to see if Hartnell follows up on that bit at all, because otherwise it seems a peculiar line to toss in on the near-last page of a mini-series.

The plot is certainly one of the better DANGER GIRL stories since the premiere series, owing greatly to the continuity nods provided by Hartnell, but the series' biggest draw is the outstanding artwork of Nick Bradshaw. I had never heard of Bradshaw prior to reading this series, but a little Googling reveals that he's become a hotshot artist at Marvel these days, with a regular gig illustrating WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN. To which I say, good for him! Bradshaw's work here is great. He's not a Campbell clone, but his lighthearted cartooning captures the Campbell vibe perfectly. Faces are expressive, figures are fluid and action is well-coreographed. In particular, a scene where Johnny and Agent Zero escape Tokyo on jetpacks comes to mind as wonderfully executed, and the final conflict in Boston is great, too.

There are some who might find Bradshaw's work a bit too cartoony, even next to Campbell's, and I can understand that assessment. But for me, this is just about perfect. And I can't forget to mention the amazing colors by Jim Charalampiois, either. He finds a line between traditional comic book coloring and the "cel-shaded" style popularized by outfits like Udon Studios, and straddles it perfectly. This is easily the best-colored DANGER GIRL series so far.

Bradshaw and Charalampiois are also the main artists on the next series, BODY SHOTS, so I greatly look forward to that one. I think Bradshaw's high profile these days is greatly deserved, but at the same time I can't help feeling it's a shame that he didn't get to illustrate any further DANGER GIRL adventures before he hit it big.

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