Essential Painkiller Jane
by Jimmy Palmiotti, Joe Quesada, et al (Dynamite, 2007)

Painkiller Jane is making a comeback, both in comics and on TV, so new fans might want to know where she came from. That question is answered in the Essential Painkiller Jane collection, which packages together the original storylines from Event Comics for a new audience.

Jane Vasko is an interesting character in a comics world glutted by rehashed ideas. Addicted to designer drugs while on a deep cover assignment for the police, her story might have ended badly once her identity was blown. But she was injected with an experimental designer drug cocktail and left for dead -- with the unexpected result that she quickly heals from any injury, no matter how life-threatening. (Oddly, the back of the book and Jane's Wikipedia entry both say her powers originated in an explosion, but that's not the story collected here.)

Now, healing factors and invulnerability are not uncommon in comics. What makes Jane unique is that -- it hurts. A lot. She feels the pain of every cut, bullet hole and broken bone, and she keeps on fighting even as her injuries mend.

Created by Jimmy Palmiotti and Joe Quesada in 1995, her story was later expanded by Brian Augustyn and Mark Waid; both runs are featured in the six original issues collected in this Essential volume.

Besides Jane, there are some fascinating supporting characters, including her best friend on the police force (whose bonehead actions back in the day are responsible for blowing Jane's cover), a doctor whose rebuffed advances don't stop him from treating Jane's constant wounds, and the 22 Brides, a mercenary group of, ironically, fewer than a dozen unmarried women.

The stories are enhanced by high-quality art, although I'm not sure why the oft-injured heroine always wears bandages in the same arrangement. If they're functional instead of decorative (as her frequent trips to her local ER suggest) you'd think they'd move around a bit.

But I like Jane, who seems to lack the heroic motivation of most comic-book stars; she fights because she's not sure what else to do with her abilities. She's a little too morose for my taste, but I have to imagine constant waves of crippling pain have something to do with her mood.

review by
Tom Knapp

9 June 2007

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