Page 45 Review by Stephen
Complete, twelve-chapter collection available in hardcover and softcover, originally reviewed in two halves.
"Are you okay?"
She really isn't.
So you think you know what to expect from this comic: a burlesque comedy starring a hyperactive desert-based, junkyard mechanic who's tied at the hip to an anthropomorphic wry, dry mountain gorilla who sasses and back-chats, right? And there were diminutive, comedy, green aliens on the first chapter's cover, so we knew we were in for those too. Sure enough, they were all present and correct, along with Terry's persistent, consistent campaign against cretins who use cell phones whilst driving, which is deadly and ever so slightly illegal.
But is that really all you'd expect from the creator of RACHEL RISING, STRANGERS IN PARADISE and ECHO? The man who's made a career out of juxtaposing comedy with hard-hitting trauma? All it takes is a single, early, un-signposted panel to suggest that you're in for a lot more than you first bargained for. This would fit comfortably on Page 45's Mental Health Awareness Counter: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.
"What happened here?
"You were in the military?"
"I was in the navy. Six years. Did you suffer any head injuries?"
"I guess. They hit me every day for ten months."
Sam's recurring headaches are excruciating, and when you finally begin to witness the flashbacks, they will flatten you.
Now former Sergeant Samantha Locklear works virtually alone in a desert junkyard owned by ancient but far from frail Libby who is determined Sam should at least wear a hat and shades. It's almost unbearably hot, but its isolation and practical purpose provides Sam with the stability she needs not to stay sane, but to survive.
Walking that tightrope alongside her is Mike the mountain gorilla, her constant companion who is more than just a figment of Sam's imagination, but a coping mechanism, a projection she knows isn't real. So if Mike isn't real, what about the UFO and the comedy green aliens who crash-land on the doorstep? Only Sam and Mike see those, late at night, fixing up their stereotypical flying-saucer's engine, to be thanked by an almighty embrace, the alien's antennae bending into the shape of a heart, his oil-stained hands planted firmly on Sam's boxer-shorted buttocks. The stain's still there in the morning, as plain as plain can be... unless Sam's imagining that too? Nope. There's a very real reason why Mr Walden is prepared to pay a ridiculous sum of money to purchase the land, then up the ante with intimidation. Nice visual reference to Hergé's TINTIN: DESTINATION MOON.
I love that Libby, the direct, gum-flapping old-age pensioner is even less likely to "do" intimidation than Sam; that she understands Sam's needs and treats her like a daughter. She won't sell unless Sam's ready to move on, and she isn't. She has a family that worries about her, but she's simply not ready.
I can hear Libby's "Ooo dogey!" drawl distinctly in my head which, weirdly enough, I am positive is partly due to the cartooning. As well as wearing a hat and shades, Libby's also determined that Sam, to stave off dehydration, should drink more.
"DRINK!" Drink or you're going straight to bed with no supper!
"That's what Momma used to say, she could really bring the pain.
"Now I drink a Martini every day at five...
"And toast to Momma."
Fab, flapping hair once flying about on a quad bike, suitably matted and ill-conditioned when not, superb use of grey tones at night, and there's an exquisite slow-motion scene in which a certain party's launch through the air is virtually halted as Sam and Mike weigh up the situation calmly, unhurriedly, before Sam demonstrates quite ably why ex-Marines don't need to carry firearms.
"She just wants to help."
"I don't need any help! Okay?
"I carry my own load! No one has to help me!
"I help them!
"I'm the strongest person in the room! That's how it works!"
"Then why am I here?"
In which you will learn precisely why Mike's in Sam's mind, and why he is specifically a mountain gorilla.
It involves a young boy in Iraq who was chained with steel braid to a big bundle of explosives, then left in an upstairs window to lure in someone just like Sergeant Samantha Locklear. It worked. The sequences in Iraq are halting and horrific, rendered without any of the cartoon galumphing exhibited by Walden's paid goons.
The stark contrast is bridged by the quiet solemnity of Sam's current, consequent medical condition when Libby goes silent and Sam and Mike finally begin to address each other seriously. And I found the sincere respect due to veterans so deftly done, for example paid here by a barman after yet another drunken altercation between Sam and Mike - or, to any observer, thin air.
"What's her problem?"
"Sam? She did three tours in Iraq. Captured, tortured, survived two bomb attacks."
"If she wants to come in here and yell at the back wall, I say yes ma'am, thank you for your service and would you like a beer for your 'friend'."
I don't have any of the Iraqi pages to show you, but perhaps that's for the best: they should come out of the blue and blow you to bits. But even during its comedic confrontations MOTOR GIRL is more than just mouth and mania: it's about the little guys getting trampled on by the big boys with money and clout; about those under threat looking out for each other. Eh, it's also about slapstick, soap-sudded aliens in your bath.
"I know how the military works, Libby."
"I know you do. I'm just saying..."
"There's more to it than duty."
"Like caring what happens to people who can't defend themselves."
STRANGERS IN PARADISE has now returned for its 25th Anniversary with STRANGERS IN PARADISE XXV #1