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Street Angel #2-3

Street Angel in “INCAdinkaDOOM” and “Going Street to Hell”
Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca

Call me a curmudgeon, but I didn’t much enjoy Street Angel #2. It’s amusing, but the humor slips too far into pointless silliness. It reads like a creative-writing class assignment gone awry: pull five unrelated plot elements out of a hat and write a story about them. Some of it works—the Incan sun god Inti sending Cortez and his men to modern Wilkesborough seems like a fine premise. The Irish astronaut Cosmick is fun (and his linguistic training to prepare him for contact with extraterrestrial life is the issue’s funniest joke), but he begs (in the text itself, even) to get his own story. In “INCAdinkaDOOM,” he only gets in the way. Inti’s Incan African hip-hop/gangsta business exectuive act is unfortunate and inexplicable. That Cortez and his men are pirates, complete with peg legs, pirate hates and “Yars!” is unfortunate and inexplicable—even moreso in juxtaposition with Gangsta Inti. I think I see the creative reasoning that must have gone into the piratical conquistadors: Ninjas feature centrally in “INCAdinkaDOOM,” and I believe they featured centrally in the first issue of Street Angel. Given an apparent necessity of ninjas in Street Girl and the Incans vs. Cortez vs. Street Girl premise of this issue, it makes sense (well, not really, but let’s say it does for the sake of my point) to have the Spaniards be pirates to exploit the ancient pirate vs. ninja vendetta. Everybodys knows, right, pirates are funny, and ninjas are funny, and pirates vs. ninjas is funniest? Well, it was funny for a couple minutes the first time I saw the joke on some web site. It’s conceptually funny, you can see how somebody might do a funny joke about pirates fighting ninjas. Rugg and Maruca make the mistake, too tragically common among humorists, of referencing a funny concept and relying on the conceptual funniness instead of working it into an actual joke that’s funny in practice. Roger Ebert often says in his reviews of unsuccessful comedies that a character in a silly hat isn’t funny—but if the character doesn’t know she’s got a silly hat on, you have the potential for real humor. It’s a simplistic example, but the idea is sound: referencing a silly thing offers little entertainment until you place them in a situation that exploits it for a comic effect beyond the basic silliness. Street Angel says, “Look, pirates vs. ninjas—eh!” and the joke falls flat.

Incan African gangsta sun gods, jokes about the lack of female Incan virgins available for sacrifice, pirates, ninjas, Irish astronauts—maybe there’s some funny story to be told about all these themes together, but Street Angel simply piles one on top of the other senselessly. The whole is less than the sum of its parts.

“Going Street to Hell,” on the other hand, is lots of fun. The tone is different, darker and more ominous, but the core of the second issue’s sense of humor remains: Street Angel is dumped in the middle of a ridiculous supernatural battle and finds herself deeply unimpressed with all involved. Actually, what’s different this issue isn’t that the tone is darker, but that it has a tone at all—issue #2 had too much disconnected randomness from one moment to the next ever to develop one clearly. In issue #3, Rugg and Maruca confine themselves to one coherent and sensical premise—Christians vs. Satanists—which allows them to develop jokes that complement each other rather than distract from each other. Throwaway gags (including the valiant Bald Eagle, who becomes a literal throwaway gag) grow and send roots into the meaty heart of the story. Bald Eagle’s nightmare of soccer-playing sharks is as nonsensical as anything in issue #2, but it connects to the skewed Christian themes in “Going Street to Hell” and feeds on them until Bald Eagle takes on a life of his own and becomes a genuinely engaging character. Even the art looks better this issue—the stark black-and-white style, with many of the backgrounds hidden pure black, provides a strong visual foundation for the narrative to play off of.

As an interesting side note, John Jakala’s response to Street Angel is pretty much exactly the opposite of mine, at least w/r/t tone:

…Mastery of tone. In previous issues, everything “fit” no matter how odd or insane it seemed. In this issue, however, the humor feels out of place given the horrific elements that permeate the tale.

I haven’t read issue #1, so I have no idea how it relates to #2 or #3. “INCAdinkaDOOM” appears to be the work of artists with some good ideas but not enough control or discipline—and “Going Street Hell” appears to be the work of confident artists who know exactly what they’re doing. I have no idea what to expect from issue #4, then, but what I’ve read so far has convinced me to find out.


  1. John Jakala says:

    I still think the tone in #3 was a bit uneven, but I will agree that all the concepts fit better. Still, the jarring juxtaposition of concepts in #2 is a big part of what made it so enjoyable for me. It’s like Morrison or Monty Python, where all the silliness seems to fit somehow, despite the fact that it obviously doesn’t, or it wouldn’t seem so novel.

    — 15 September 2004 at 2:40 am (Permalink)

  2. Steven says:

    Coincidentally, I had a paragraph in this post contrasting Street Angel #2 with Seaguy. (I took it out because it didn’t really fit.) I think the difference between Street Angel #2 and some of Morrison’s work is that, in Morrison’s work, there’s usually some connecting tissue between the bits of craziness. In Seaguy, most of the episodes are superficially unrelated and incongruous, but they subtly build upon each other and set up thematic resonances that sing through the book. “INCAdinkaDOOM,” on the other hand, seems to (deliberately?) disrupt any resonances, especially with the Incan/Cortez stuff. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I didn’t enjoy it in this case.

    — 15 September 2004 at 12:22 pm (Permalink)