Funkadelic Sci-Fi Bliss
Nurse Nurse (Sparkplug Comic Books): I’d previously read and enjoyed a couple random issues of Katie Skelly’s populist punk adventure series that Dylan Williams had given me at San Diego Comic-Con years ago, so I was thrilled to receive this review copy collecting her first 7 mini-comics and the all new issue 8 contents as a feature length extravaganza. This project is the result of a recent successful crowd-funding campaign and is one of the company’s first major publications since Dylan's passing (words which are still incredibly horrible to type). Without getting too sentimental and digressing away from a proper review of Nurse Nurse, I’ll just say that I think it’s something Dylan would have beamed with pride over. The narrative thrust involves Nurse Gemma rocketing off to aid colonists reportedly sick from a poisoned artificial atmosphere after a swelling Earth population in the year 3030 has sent man to the cosmos. For her first mission, she’s sent to help some terraformed Venusian Aphrodisiac Butterfly Farmers and becomes embroiled in a larger mystery surrounding the psychotropic effects of an associated substance. One of the things that I think makes good alt sci-fi accessible is grounding it in humanity. For example, here the girls fawn over their favorite band, or even bitch about the rigors of their job, while preparing for the deep sleep of hyperspace. It’s subtle smart moves like that (with some extremely light LucasFilm influences), which marry familiar truths to fantastical ideas, making a futuristic story we can believe in. Some things change, but some things stay the same. Skelly’s line is fairly sparse, it’s crisp and curvaceous, but there isn’t a lot of detail by way of line weight variation, or background clutter mucking up the panels. Her figures and the action stand mostly in the foreground, without any other panel attributes or overly rendered qualities. If her lines themselves are relatively simple, she’s able to wring a lot of emotion out of them simply from dynamic facial expressions or general body posturing. The mystery presented is good, but things get really interesting when a Buck Rogers style mishap aboard her ship brings her face to face with a band of pirates, including Bandit, Pandaface, and former flame Lucian, who seems to have become disenchanted with the practice of proper medicine. There’s unexpected danger and unpredictability lurking around every corner that fuels the narrative and always keeps pushing it forward. It’s always done in a fun manner that’s never dull, never lingering too long on a single panel or story thread. What I really like about Gemma is that she’s scrappy and resourceful. During the escape pod sequence, for instance, it’s clear that she’s nobody’s window dressing. She isn’t playing second fiddle to a man or waiting to be saved from peril like some space-faring damsel in distress. She just gets shit done in an effort to further her own internal agenda. She is the unqualified hero of her own story. It even seems to be prophesied among her new friend Traume and the Martians that she’s some form of savior. When Gemma takes the experimental substance to “bliss out,” it’s because she just wants to feel needed and important and not alone in the universe. You can interpret this at face value as an actual drug trip (which it is) or look at a more figurative meaning, that it acts as a stand-in for what we all do to distract ourselves from our own insecurities. Gemma is now stranded on Mars and begins to investigate the Nurse Nurse show, which oddly seems to feature her doppelganger. It starts moving incredibly fast toward the end, as if Skelly was conscious that the end of the book was looming; Lucian is rescued, clones are killed, and we barely have time to stop and notice the kitschy retro tech computer that’s infatuated with her. She jumps from a crew that’s pulling a job on Earth, and then it ends fairly abruptly with no clear denouement of the plot(s) in motion. I’ll say that I enjoyed Nurse Nurse for the vast majority of the affair, but it did feel like we were not really given a complete story. The end presented is a bit non-sequitur, feeling more like an end, not because the story was truly done, but simply because we’d inevitably arrived at the last page of the book. Skelly has introduced a lot of fun original questions in her little world, even circling back to some characters we’d left – signposting some greater purpose, with no specific answers definitively given. Thankfully, she appears to leave it wide open for more content and continuing adventures. I certainly hope Katie Skelly and Sparkplug Comic Books plan to continue the series, either in OGN-style format or even more singles to tide us over. Nurse Nurse is a really special and unique book, and I wouldn’t want to see it left indefinitely in this partial state. It plays like the introduction to a really good story. Grade A-.