Posted by: Graeme McMillan on March 12, 2007
It’s actually kind of unnerving to read Hibbs say that he completely agrees with me about 52. I’d kind of devolved into a mindset where I was the one more likely to go to extremes with reviews, while Brian would come along with something that was carefully considered and more concise, yet utterly correct, so reading that he thinks the same thing I do about the recent issues of DC’s weekly comic kind of makes me feel as if I’ve accidentally discovered the meaning of life or something. Luckily, this time out I’m the complete inverse of Jeff Lester, so normal service has apparently been resumed.
THE PLAIN JANES: Perhaps it’s my love of shows like Gilmore Girls, The OC or America’s Next Top Model, or perhaps it’s the fact that I went to art school (first as a student, then as a teacher, fact fans), but there was something about this book that made me love it almost from the get-go, despite its flaws… right up until the end. Cecil Castellucci’s experience as a novelist is obvious from the over-reliance on narration (occasionally leaving Jim Rugg high and dry with the accompanying illustrations), but I completely bought into the narrator’s – admittedly teenage angst-ridden – struggle for an identity that she could only find in comparison to others (both her friends and the town society in general). The narration, in fact, might be the strongest part of the book; the voice is strong and believable, bringing the main character Jane (who co-stars with Jane, Jayne and Polly-Jane, partially-hence the title of the book) to life in a way that doesn’t quite happen through her interaction with the other characters. There’s something about the space provided in book-length narration that allows for contradictions and humor and doubt that the other characters don’t have, allowing (main) Jane to transcend her stereotypical origins in a way that the other characters don’t. You could make an argument for that being intentional – when we’re teenagers, we’re all the center of our own worlds, after all – but it doesn’t change the fact that the book doesn’t really give enough of a reason for why the other Ja(y)nes are friends before Jane comes into their life; they just are, because it’s what the story needs, apparently.
But I’m kind of getting ahead of myself, pointing out what didn’t work for me, instead of what did. The narration, then, I enjoyed. The art terrorism of PLAIN, I loved; it was wonderfully pointless and pointed at the same time, and the confused, scared reaction it causes in the town felt like an interesting counterpoint to what Jane herself was going through (The embracing chaos/denying it thing, I guess). The random love interest plot, and the awkward interplay between Jane and her crush was fun, even if the crush himself came across as pretty generic and McGuffin-esque, appearing and being cool at just the right points throughout the story. When it all goes wrong, too, felt honest and is dealt with satisfyingly quickly, for the most part.
No, what really didn’t work for me was the ending. This is where writing advance reviews gets annoying, because I really want to talk in specifics about why the ending didn’t work for me – because, in theory, it should; it has all the ingredients you’d expect, but the execution is lacking, partially, I think because of space – but I can’t, because that would completely spoil the story for everyone else who wants to read the book. Suffice to say, if the last two pages had been about five times longer and included a particular reason for a particular decision to be made, then it wouldn’t’ve (a) cheapened the climactic event that had just happened, and (b) kind of ruined the book for me.
“Ruined” may be a bit strong, of course. There’s nothing in those last couple of pages that invalidated the enjoyment I’d gotten from the rest of the book – the close of the prologue of the book, the eighth page, is something that I’m just completely in love with for some reason, for example – but the book just kind of stops, as opposed to actually coming to an end, and the way that it stops almost goes back on some of the promises that’ve been made earlier, that the small things have weight and importance, so the big things should have even moreso (The book starts with what seems to be a flashback to 9/11, but curiously, it’s never explicitly stated as such as the city Jane comes from is always called “Metro City,” which may be some shoutout to famous comic cities like Metropolis or Star City, but still feels weird each time. While the climax of the book is nowhere near that scale, it’s still… I don’t know, something larger than other events but isn’t treated as such, which undermines not only that event, but also the motivations of the characters from earlier in the book. Again, I really want to go into specifics, so ask me again when the book comes out).
Overall, though, I liked the book. One thing that I’m with Jeff in is the wanting to like the Minx line on principle, and from looking at the previews of other books in the launch cycle at the back of this book, The Plain Janes is probably the best book to launch with, with clearer art and premise than the others (For no reason whatsoever, I just want to point out that almost all my excitement for the Andi Watson book was killed by seeing the Josh Howard art in the preview – Howard’s stuff can be fine sometimes, but just doesn’t work in the pages they show here). It’s a very un-DC book for DC to be pushing like this, but that’s probably the point. I just hope that it finds its way to a receptive, less-critical-than-Jeff-or-I, audience who’s willing to come back for more. Good.
Meanwhile, for those in the San Francisco Bay Area that I call home: Pick up today’s Examiner (Hey, it’s free), and look at the letters column. You’ll know why when you see it.