Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Are you okay?"
So you think you know what to expect from this comic.
It's a burlesque 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 that's a diminutive, comedy, green alien on the cover, so you're in for those too?
No, that's okay, you're not wrong: they're all here, 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 witness the silent flashback, it will flatten you.
"Is that where you got these scars on the back of your scalp?"
"I suppose. They liked to work the backside so the front looked okay on camera. Y'know... for NATO."
"Did you receive medical attention after captivity?"
"Nine weeks in the hospital, a year of rehab."
It wasn't enough.
"That's a lot to go through alone."
"I wasn't alone. I was never alone."
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. Mike, of course, is a straight male gorilla: infer from that what you will.
Samantha's so skilled she can identify any car and its condition by the sound of its engine. Her ideal career would have been a racing car driver.
"People actually pay you to go to cities all round the world and drive fast. What could be better?"
"Lying in a hammock by the beach, beer on ice, fish on the grill... watching the girls play volleyball."
"That was a rhetorical question."
Yes, but you answered it anyway, Sam!
"They ask me to join in."
"But I can't, see?" 'Cause I'm there with Scarlett Johnasson... and she gets jellyyyy..."
"Omigod, shut up."
"And they start wrasslinnn..."
It's all so subtly written.
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?
On that, I will stay schtum, but there has to be some 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."
So yes, new shorter-form series which is far from predictable before Terry returns to STRANGERS IN PARADISE - hooray! - starring a hyperactive, desert-based, junkyard mechanic, a highly sardonic anthropomorphic mountain gorilla, diminutive, comedy, green aliens, a sympathetic landlord and a lot less sympathetic, land-grabbing mystery man.
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.
I think TANK GIRL fans would love this.