Friday, December 12, 2014


Over the summer I posted a series of reviews on all DANGER GIRL mini-series to date. But as those reviews were underway, the latest DG series was being released monthly. The trade paperback just came out a couple weeks back, so I figure I should put a bow on 2014's "Summer of Danger Girl" with one more, slightly delayed post:

Written by Andy Hartnell | Pencils by John Royle
Inks by Jose Marzan, Jr. & Eeshwar | Letters by Neil Uyetake
Colors by Romulo Fajardo & Ronda Pattinson | Edits by Scott Dunbier
Danger Girl Created By J. Scott Campbell & Andy Hartnell

MAYDAY is another stylistically different Danger Girl series, and it's nice to see Andy Hartnell continue to try new approaches rather than stick to the same old formula. He's written these characters through nine limited series plus an assortment of one-shots over the past fifteen years, comprising more than forty issues now, so some variety at this point is appreciated. In this case, the entire series focuses on Natalia Kassle, with the Danger Girls only appearing in the final issue as minor background characters.

The story begins "years ago" as Hammer Island explodes, circa the conclusion of the original DANGER GIRL series. Not far from the island, a group of mercenaries led by one April Mayday are attempting to hijack a Hammer supply ship when a bunch of debris falls from the sky. Among the projectiles is Natalia, near death following her final confrontation with Abbey. Mayday resuscitates Natalia and takes her to a tropical island to recover.

We then skip to the present day, where Natalia's physical rehabilitation is complete -- but she has no memory of her past. Mayday, having spent the past few years researching Natalia, fills in what blanks she can and recruits Natalia into her mercenary troupe. She presents the team as a benevolent force working to recover experimental nerve gas before it can be used on Natalia's homeland, Russia (in actuality they're after the gas, presumably, to sell it for a profit). Natalia assists the mercs in tracking the gas down, first by hunting an ex-KGB agent in Moscow and then traveling to Africa, where the gas is being shipped. But Anastasia Kilbourne, villainess of THE CHASE, is after the gas too -- and so are Abbey and the Danger Girls (assisted by Dallas, Sonya's bounty from TRINITY).

The focus, as noted, is squarely on Natalia for the entire series, filling us in on what she's been up to since her apparent death, and letting us see her in action alongside Mayday's team. Natalia comes across as conflicted here, the amnesia providing a "clean slate" of sorts, allowing her to choose whether she will revert to a bad girl once more or switch her allegiance to become more benevolent. She genuinely wants to save Russia and works with Mayday's team toward that end, but she's a bloodthirsty she-devil in battle and she hates Abbey for nearly killing her. By the story's end she has secretly saved Abbey from death (none of the Danger Girls lay eyes on Natalia during the course of the mission), but the reader is left wondering whether this is only so she can target Abbey at a later date. When last we see Natalia she has returned to the long abandoned Hammer Island and activated its computer system, instructing it to locate all remaining Hammer agents for her.

Hartnell's handling of Natalia is mostly sympathetic, and really gets you thinking this is a kinder, gentler version of the character -- but then he periodically flips this switch which turns into a cold-blooded murder machine, reminding readers that she was a traitor and had no qualms about attempting to kill her former teammates in the first series. The result is Natalia reimagined, for this series at least, as sort of an anti-hero.

When I was younger, while I felt Sydney was the coolest looking Danger Girl aesthetically (hard to go wrong with a leather catsuit and a bullwhip), Natalia was my favorite, personality-wise (until her heel turn, of course) and in terms of overall sex appeal (her combat uniform, after all, is a bikini top with military pants). It's been over fifteen years since he last wrote her, but it seems Natalia has not been far from Hartnell's mind, as he doesn't miss a beat in recapturing the same character he co-created with Campbell back in 1998. It's good to have this character back in circulation, regardless of her motivations or her allegiances.

John Royle is back in fine form as well. I swear this guy is the artistic heir to J. Scott Campbell. I'm sure many artists tried to mimic Campbell's style, especially in the late nineties when Danger Girl was at its peak, but I can't imagine anyone nailing him better than Royle. I could stare at his work for hours. The brilliant colors by Romulo Fajardo certainly help, too. The interiors on this series are some of the best to come from any Danger Girl series since the original run.

I realize the Danger Girl franchise has been intentionally handled by multiple artists over the years, lending each limited series its own distinct look, but were it up to me, I would chain Royle to the property as its regular artist. If Campbell himself isn't up to the task, Royle should be providing character designs, model sheets, and cover art for every mini-series, as well as interiors for most of them (barring any possible guest-spot returns from Nick Bradshaw, Jonboy Meyers, and Chris Madden). Royle even gets to provide both standard and variant covers for every issue of the series, a first for any artist outside of Campbell, as far as I can recall.

I had high hopes for MAYDAY, given that it looked to finally pick up a plot line which had been dangling since 2005's BACK IN BLACK, and for the most part I wasn't disappointed. Hartnell finally brings back Natalia and hints at the return of the Hammer, he tosses in nods to his more recent continuity with appearances from TRINITY's Dallas and THE CHASE's Asia, and he continues to flesh out the universe with some new characters in the form of April Mayday and her group. Overall, this is a satisfying read.

There is, however, one glitch that bugs me: back in BACK IN BLACK, we were introduced to The Gentleman, an older fellow with plans to resurrect the Hammer, and we saw that he (apparently) had Natalia's body on ice (or at least had a coffin labeled with her name in his possession). Even as recently as THE CHASE, Asia seemed to be reporting to him, unless her boss was meant to be a different mysterious elderly character. But here, we learn that Natalia was revived immediately after the destruction of Hammer Island. So whose body is in The Gentleman's possession? Or is Hartnell disavowing the events of BACK IN BLACK? I don't mind retroactive continuity, but I hate when creators completely ignore past stories in favor of a new idea -- especially, in this case, since Hartnell himself wrote that past story! BACK IN BLACK came out almost ten years ago, so perhaps Hartnell doesn't want to saddle current readers with that old baggage, but IDW just reprinted it in trade paperback format earlier this year, so it's readily available. At the time, due to Natalia's reappearance in MAYDAY, I had even assumed IDW was intentionally bringing BACK IN BLACK back into publication to tie in with this series. I hope to see Hartnell address this in a future mini-series.

But beyond that one glaring continuity issue, MAYDAY is a fine entry into the DANGER GIRL canon, working well both as an installment in the ongoing adventures and as a direct sequel to the original seven-issue series. I don't know what's next for this franchise, but I look forward to finding out. Hartnell has been mostly on a roll since bringing Danger Girl to IDW, and he's really been building his universe nicely. At this point I would be interested in an ongoing DANGER GIRL series (illustrated by John Royle, of course), but I doubt anything of that nature is in the cards.

Available now from

Variant covers by John Royle.

No comments:

Post a Comment