‘Sup readers? I’m a little bit early, but welcome to this week’s On The Shelf— I think we all know the drill by now. I root through newly-released literature, pick something that looks promising, and then let you guys know whether or not it actually holds up well enough to have a spot on your shelf.
This week’s title was supposed to be Megan Miranda’s newest work, The Perfect Stranger, a standalone companion to her bestselling novel All The Missing Girls. But then I got a pre-ordered trade paperback in the mail, and upon picking it up, I couldn’t put it back down (except for when I had to pee. And eat pasta. But those two things were done with great reluctance). What is this book that made homemade vodka sauce pasta so unappealing, you may ask? It’s none other than Henchgirl by Kristen Gudsnuk.
Originally published online and subsequently distributed in single issue format by Scout Comics, you can now buy the whole thing in a gorgeous trade paperback, courtesy of Dark Horse Comics. I’m tempted to be imperious and end the review right here by staying mum except for telling you that if you’re a comic fiend, you’ll adopt Henchgirl into your family the way Bruce Wayne adopts orphans: enthusiastically, and with all the love your shrivelled-up heart can manage. If you haven’t so much as touched a comic in your life, preferring to stick to more traditional novels, Henchgirl is a great book upon which to initiate yourself into the world of comics. But if that was all I told you, I’d be doing an awful discredit to Henchgirl, and really, Gudsnuk deserves all the praise this title has earned.
Henchgirl follows Mary Posa: resident of Crepe (mmm) City, daughter, roommate, friend, and henchgirl to a C-list organization of villains calling themselves The Butterfly Gang (their ringleader being the not-quite-as-feared-as-he’d-like-to-be Monsieur Monarch). Being a henchgirl isn’t exactly a reputable profession— in fact, Mary spends quite a lot of time romanticizing finally getting a job that will allow her to pay taxes and officially shoulder into the adult world— and Mary isn’t quite brimming with the sort of malicious wrath that would strike fear into the hearts of civilians (she’s not even comfortable swiping lunch money). When Monsieur Monarch goes up against his arch-nemesis, Mr. Great Guy, Mary tags along in the hopes of earning a living wage (to be fair: the economy sucks but being a henchgirl pays big-time). On one such a heist, Mary meets Crepe City’s newest hero, Mannequin, and her story unfolds from there.
But Henchgirl isn’t just a subversive spoof on the superhero genre (even though said spoof is crafted to perfection. One of the best— if not the best— in recent years). It is a saga about love, life, friendship, family, and amazing Sailor Moon references (thank you, Kristen Gudsnuk, for melding my past and present into a pastiche of hilarity), through the eyes of an underdog who has a spectacular view of the heel of life’s omnipresent boot. Gudsnuk is a writer with a flare for the modern— perhaps I speak out of turn, but her work is reminiscent of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s. Like O’Malley, she is a voice for her generation— and a keen sense for the constant— no matter what year we’re in, humans will always fall back on the principles of love (familial and otherwise) and achievement. It’s comforting, in its own way.
Imbued with quirky art, vibrant colours, and snappy dialogue Henchgirl pokes gently (but knowingly) at the life of a late-bloomer who doesn’t quite have it all together but is trying her best. Henchgirl is the perfect remedy to all emotion-related ailments. Feeling sad? Pick this up, it will make you laugh. Feeling mad? Great, this will melt your anger to the point of nonexistence. Feeling happy? Perfect! This book is a wonderful celebratory treat, whether you’re buying it for yourself or a loved one. Mary Posa may not be your typical hero, but if I were running from a megalomaniacal villain, I’d want her as my rescuer (okay, maybe not. But I’d totally want her to rescue someone else and then I’d read about it and laugh until I cried).
Henchgirl should have a place on everyone’s shelf, and Gudsnuk a spot on the list of auto-buy authors for her clever, creative stamp on the comic landscape. Want a copy? Check out your local comic shop or buy it here.