Castellucci, Cecil & Jim Rugg. The Plain Janes.

NY: DC Comics, 2007.

Graphic novels — not collections of DC superhero comics, but scratch-written stories — can be kind of a mixed bag. This author has won several awards for her work aimed at the YA market, but in my opinion, she’s only about halfway to where she might be.

This one opens with the teenage Jane going about her affairs in “Metro City” when some sort of terrorist attack takes place (we’re never told what and it doesn’t really matter). She’s shaken up but deals with it by semi-gothifying herself and disengaging from the world, or trying to. Others aren’t so lucky, including the John Doe in a coma, who seems to be an artist, and whom she goes and sits with and tells her troubles to. Then her folks, especially her mother, who has become obsessively fearful about everything, flee to an outlying suburb and Jane finds herself the new kid at Buzz Aldrin High.

After hunting around for her kind of people, her “tribe” — other geeks and misfits, that is — she finally stumbles on the lunchroom table of Jayne (the brain), another Jane (the intellectual actress wannabe), and Polly Jane (the bench-sitting jock). Later they’re joined by James, apparently the only gay student in the school.

Jane’s a stirring-the-pot sort of person and she eventually becomes the leader of an art-girl gang pulling secret nighttime pranks of a creative and artistic nature — but the school authorities, the cops, and even her mother, react as if the kids are terrorists themselves, and they establish curfews and make threatening speeches. And you know it’s only a matter of time before someone gets caught.

It’s a good story, as far as it goes, and Jim Rugg’s simple, straightforward, black-and-white line drawings are effective. The problem is, there ought to be more to the story. We’re left hanging, wondering what’s going to happen to the supportive fellow traveler who got arrested and what the four girls are going to do in response — because they certainly aren’t quitters. Instead, it all just stops, as if the book had reached its required page-length. I gather there’s a sequel about the further adventures of the same characters, but that’s really irrelevant. This is supposed to be a standalone story. Castellucci, like many graphic authors, doesn’t seem to know how to do endings.

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