Comic book creators need to be plate spinners; artistic acrobats who know when to shimmy, what to shake and how to bring all the boys (and girls) to the yard.
Perhaps it's too clever by half to write that It Girl and the Atomics is what it is, but there it is and so it goes. Writer Jamie S. Rich, artist Mike Norton, colorist Allen Passalaqua and letterer Crank! craft a story of wit and beauty, chic and cheek, a whole-hearted, big-hearted comic with a je ne sais quoi only a true "It Girl" could possess.
It Girl and the Atomics #5 concludes its first story arc, "Dark Streets, Snap City." If this were (almost) any other comic, the conclusion might be not the best place to start. It Girl ain't that comic. More than a smart play on words, It Girl and the Atomics possess an ever-present quality, a "now-ness" few other comics enjoy. There's an overarching narrative and yet each issue is strong enough to stand on its own.
The mystery elixir of It Girl and the Atomics is playfulness. I don't mean in that catchall category called "fun," i.e. "this comic is fun." Fun like how? Fun like what? Fun like sex? Fun like a scratch-off ticket? Fun like a puppy? Fun like a comic book? Nitpick or not, yes, It Girl and the Atomics is fun — like sex, like lottery winnings, like puppies and like comic books. The inscrutable quality that pushes this title beyond the fabled nth degree is a capacity for invention. That's its "it." It Girl and the Atomics invents.
Here's a for instance: turns out when It Girl's once-dead big sister got brought back to life, she left a side (a trace, for those of you with the "Shining') of herself behind, an evil side. Being "now," this evil alterna-sister's Count-of-Monte-Cristo-esque plan is to come back as the villain, LaLa Wah-Wah, in It Girl's favorite video game, "Dark Streets," and kill her. Wah-Wah catches It Girl at a bad time. "Real life" bums It Girl out, she prefers the life she lives on-line where the living is easy, less complicated, and she can be the person she wants to be instead of It Girl. How's that for "inventive?'
Along with not trying to die at the hands of her somewhat-sorta-sister's evil twin, this initial arc is It Girl's (and Rich's) attempt to establish identity. Rich keeps the meta-ness of the story at a manageable level — this is "fun" after all and not a graduate thesis — which is admirable considering It Girl's power is that she can become anything she touches; she is the "It Girl" in every way, all of the time.
There's a moment towards the end of the story when It Girl uses an oft-repeated refrain of writers, gamers and tweeters everywhere: "and here you thought all those hours spent on my computer were a waste of time." It's an affirmation for Rich and for those of us that play at home. Rich's sense of humor runs both sly and dry. From the sound of LaLa's last name (think sad trombone) to a joke about Skunk's "gas delivery system" and the line that follows: "Flem can probably help you with that, Shane," Rich writes with cleverness, honesty and he can be friggin" funny when needed.
To collar colorist Passalaqua the "unsung hero" of this title says more about colorists (and critics) than Passalaqua. It Girl and the Atomics brightens up any LCS shelf. Passalaqua washes a world in pinks and yellows, electric blues and candy sparkles. The mantis greens of the wireframe world inside "Dark Streets" springboard the pulse of the argon blues so that they explode off the page. The Pop Art colors, so indicative of this title, get at its gestalt in a backdoor, reverse-engineered kind of way; when the color palette is this vivid and this bouncy it establishes a backbeat that allows Rich and artist Mike Norton to solo. Passalaqua's colors tailor It Girl and the Atomics like a Nudie suit on a rock-and-roll icon.
Perhaps I'm being contrarian by championing the colorist before the artist and I don't mean to — it also pisses me off to bury the artist on the back nine of any review which happens way too often in comic book criticism, c'mon people we can do better! — because Mike Norton might be the most practiced plate spinner on staff. Norton knows how to cut an action scene, a montage and a tête-à-tête with brio and lovable sophistication. Norton has a chameleon quality to his work. His Bill Watterson-like strips inset as flashbacks in issue #4 — please (oh, please) make that happen for an entire issue — shows that he can adapt his style to any setting or mood while still being "Mike Norton" instead of Mike Norton the mimic. Whether it's Watterson in #4 or Brian Lee O'Malley as he does here in #5, or Mike Allred, Norton is his own man, his own artist, an equal and singular voice in a chorus of fellow auteurs.
Anything from the Allred-verse owes something to its creator. The creative team of It Girl and the Atomics isn't bound by Allred's inimitable style; if anything, Allred's aesthetic is everywhere and always boundless. So, if Rich, Norton and Passalaqua and Crank! shake what Allred gave "em it's not imitation, it's creation. Issue #5 sees It Girl front the group, she should, she
's It Girl, but she knows (at least she's learning) she's also part of the whole, the Atomics. Likewise It Girl and the Atomics the comic is equal parts words, pictures, colors and letters that prove the best comics are a team sport.
You can pick up this issue on Wednesday, December 12, 2012, but in the meantime you can read Keith's interview with Jamie S. Rich on this very site!