Hopeless Savages
by Jen Van Meter,
Christine Norrie,
Chynna Clugston-Major
(Oni, 2002)

When a teenager wakes to find her parents kidnapped and the house ransacked, it's generally not the opening scene for a festive romp. But most teenagers aren't Zero Hopeless-Savage, and most parents aren't the most famous punk rockers, scene stealers and street brawlers of their generation. With her sister Arsenal and brother Twitch, Zero sets out to find the "grinding Nazis" who somehow managed to kidnap their parents. Along the way they explore the seamy side of teen idols, revisit rehab and brave the inner corporate sanctum of a giant coffee chain.

The story isn't without flaws. Zero and Arsenal's constant reassurances that Dirk and Nikki are fine, combined with Zero's post-adventure narration, effectively sap any tension out of the kidnapping plot. The main source of tension comes from subplots, like the attempt to rescue long-lost brother Rat from his existence as a corporate drone or the shocking revelation of Dirk's dark past. But then the real point of the story is meeting the Hopeless Savages and getting to know their somewhat unusual, but very sympathetic, family.

Jen Van Meter's sometimes hectic storytelling is given a helping structure by Christine Norrie and Chynna Clugston-Major in their turns at the art chores. While alternating art styles for a single story can often be jarring, they're used here to good effect. Clugston-Major, creator of Blue Monday, has a smooth, manga-heavy style with an idealized look perfect for the flashback sequences. Norrie's art manages to combine obvious professional-level skills with spontaneous character direction and jagged inks perfectly sited to the Hopeless Savages' punk world. The contrast gives the flashbacks the black-and-white equivalent of a movie's soft focus and gives the current adventure a note of urgency that could otherwise vanish under the sheer weight of the characters' competence.

If all that isn't enough, the trade also collects some stand-alone color shorts, with the color work done by Andi Watson. There's the very sweet "First Romance (check it)," which shows the opening of Arsenal's relationship with her current sweetheart, Claude. And a brief shot of the family's hapless suburban neighbors gives an indication of exactly how well they really fit into their everyday lives.

How well does Hopeless Savages really reflect the punk lifestyle or capture the era? As the fictional foreword to the book points out, if you really remember, you weren't really there. It's a rollicking good time regardless, an urban adventure that combines adult problems with the innocence of high school. And while it may spoil you for comics, at least it won't ruin your hearing.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 21 May 2005

Buy it from Amazon.com.