Friday, May 13, 2016

DANGER GIRL: RENEGADE

Written by Andy Hartnell | Art by Stephen Molnar
Colors by John Rauch | Letters by Neil Uyetake | Edits by Scott Dunbier
Danger Girl created by J. Scott Campbell and Andy Hartnell

You know that feeling when you pick up an issue of a comic and realize you somehow missed the previous month's installment? That's the feeling one gets when reading DANGER GIRL: RENEGADE. It starts off straightforwardly enough, with a flashback to twelve years ago as we find a 13 year-old Abbey Chase in Cairo, under attack by a group of mercenaries. She and her guardian, David -- a friend of Abbey's missing father -- escape and move to Norway, but more mercs catch up with them there and David is shot, forcing Abbey to run and leave him for dead.

Issues 2 and 3 begin with similar flashbacks to Abbey's youth, one featuring her at age 16 in Tokyo with another of her father's contacts, while the third features 19 year-old Abbey searching for a treasure in Guatemala with a professor friend as well as her eventual rival (from the pages of DANGER GIRL: REVOLVER), Darren Cross. (And, in a nice touch, we learn here how Cross lost his fingertips as seen in his prior appearance.)

All this is well and good, fleshing out Abbey's past and revealing that she's spent years searching, off and on, for her missing dad. The confusion arises in the modern day storyline, which covers the remainder of the series' pages. We learn that the Danger Girl team disbanded under mysterious circumstances and that Deuce is missing. Abbey hasn't seen any of her former colleagues in over a year, and has gone back to her treasure hunting ways alongside international ne'er-do-well Dallas (featured previously in the prior two DANGER GIRL mini-series, TRINITY and MAYDAY).

It really reads as if there was supposed to be a mini-series between MAYDAY and RENEGADE, but there isn't one. And given that's the case, one might expect to see the disbanding of the Danger Girl team paid more attention than mere lip service, perhaps via some exposition or a flashback, but that's not the case either. I have no idea if Hartnell intends to fill in this blank with a future mini-series, but right now the story feels like a chunk was skipped over with no explanation. (Generally when TV shows or comics do something like this, the narrative device is advertised in some way; here it's just thrown out there with no real logic behind it.)

As the modern day sequence proceeds, Abbey, Dallas, and their mercenary friends travel from Ecuador to Brazil in search of a mysterious emerald and are eventually recruited by CIA operatives to assist in a sting operation in the U.K. against the afore-mentioned Darren Cross. In the aftermath of the sting, we learn that the "CIA" folks aren't really CIA at all -- they work for Abbey's former guardian David, who's not quite dead after all, and who has worked with a consortium of anonymous nations to form a vast new Danger Girl organization with the goal of stopping the Hammer Empire from reforming.

The idea of Danger Girl as a G.I. Joe-scale operation doesn't really sit well with me. Before, the team was a small group of specially trained operatives running clandestine missions from their luxurious yacht. They had no real support except in the form of favors occasionally called in by Deuce, and their missions -- at least following the original mini-series -- were generally pretty small in scale. But now we have a massive Danger Girl complex hidden in the Canary Islands, staffed by dozens of agents and backed by the resources of several countries, and it just feels too... big. Part of the appeal of the original DANGER GIRL concept was the "one small group against the world" idea.

But, all that said, I'll reserve full judgment on this new status quo until I see it in action -- since RENEGADE concludes with a small group of Danger Girls setting out to find one of the Hammer's recently resurfaced special agents in Brazil. And, in what serves as a legitimate twist, that group consists of Abbey, Sonya Savage, and, from the pages of MAYDAY -- April Mayday and Natalia Kassle. Yes, it turns out when Natalia found that old Hammer base at the end of MAYDAY and summoned all Hammer agents in the world home, she wasn't doing it because she planned to resurrect the Hammer Empire; she was doing it to make a stand against them. Though she's arrogant as ever, Natalia appears to be a good guy once more (not that Abbey believes her; she assaults and attempts to kill Natalia on first sight, no questions asked).

So while I'm unsure about the new setup, I must at least give Hartnell kudos for continuing to develop the DANGER GIRL universe while never losing sight of its origins. The Hammer is making a comeback, Natalia is back in action, and every mini-series builds on what came before, with appearances from an ever-growing supporting cast -- this one alone, as noted above, features appearances from Dallas (TRINITY and MAYDAY), Darren Cross (REVOLVER), and also the sinister Asia Kilbourne (THE CHASE and MAYDAY) -- though I should note that it's now been three years and counting since we last saw former DANGER GIRL stalwart, good ol' Johnny Barracuda, in DANGER GIRL/G.I. JOE...

The artwork in RENEGADE is decent, coming from Stephen Molnar, who drew Sonya's portions of TRINITY. I liked Molnar's work there, which I described at the time as akin to Terry Dodson or Frank Cho. I'd still say that he's sort of a "minimalist" version of those two, but his figures are extremely stiff and occasionally poorly proportioned (he seems to have issues with foreshortening); however his faces and expressions are top-notch, and it seems like he puts more effort into Abbey than any other character in the series.


Interior art by Stephen Molnar.

Last note: Abbey's ongoing search for her long-missing father is a major theme in RENEGADE. She carries his journal around and is told that he spent much of his time away from her spying on the Hammer. It was teased extensively in the original DANGER GIRL mini-series that the mysterious Agent Zero was Abbey's dad; one wonders if Hartnell still intends to pay off the mystery that way, or if he's made other plans. After all, while he's never disavowed that inaugural seven-issue series, it does seem in recent years as if he's written off its sequels, BACK IN BLACK and BODY SHOTS, as being out of continuity -- so I'd wager than anything from the early days of DANGER GIRL is fair game to be overridden by newer concepts. It could be interesting to see Abbey's dad turn out to be some other character; heck, perhaps Zero was always intended to be a red herring despite his obvious affection for Abbey. I suppose only the future will say.

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