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Hopeless Savages: Ground Zero

I loathe reality television with almost every fiber of my being. Its only functioning purpose is to exist for big companies like NBC, FOX, and CBS so they can avoid paying actors' and writers' salaries, which means shows of quality like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Alias (not to mention my much beloved, and sorely missed Firefly) rarely get made because they aren't as cost effective to a studio.

So the public ends up with the choice of watching some silicone-laden slattern-ette try bang every guy on Paradise's Temptation Island Challenge or the news. And as pretty as Wolf Blitzer is, he doesn't keep my attention as raptly as Joss Whedon or J.J. Abrams does.

But when it comes to comics, almost anything can catch my interest as long as the concept is treated well, and throwing in a touch of "reality" TV into a comic to move the plot along is actually pretty inspired, in at least as much as it applies to Hopeless Savages: Ground Zero.

This is the second volume of Hopeless Savages, the comic by Jen Van Meter published through Oni Press. In the first one, Van Meter introduced the world to the Hopeless-Savage clan (parents, Dirk Hopeless and Nikki Savage) which consists of Rat Bastard, Arsenal Fierce, Twitch Strummer, and Skank Zero (it must have been hard, but Van Meter actually found a way to make the Zappa naming system seem logical). With their parents being former rock-and-roll stars, the kids have lived interesting and very public lives.

In Ground Zero, Van Meter places the spotlight on the youngest daughter of the Hopeless-Savages, Zero, as she tries to stumble her way through high school, love, and her own rock-and-roll aspirations, all while under the probing camera lens of a reality TV show similar to MTV's Diary or The Osbournes.

Van Meter really managed to surprise me with this book. I came into it with no prior knowledge of the series (not reading the first volume will do that) and I simply assumed it was some punk rock, slice-of-life book about a band and their troubles that would ultimately end with some battle of the bands competition or something equally innocuous.

Imagine my surprise when Van Meter sells me a believable story about the love life of a teenage girl stuck in the public eye, with only the barest hint of a band as a backdrop to the character development. Zero is an incredibly easy character to like and her troubles with Ginger Kinkaid (the boy she likes, that likes her, both of which can't get it together long enough to have a good talk) are an interesting twist on the usual "friend who likes friend but doesn't want to ruin it" plot device, having Ginger remark early on in the story that he has no plans to be that guy.

What's more is that Van Meter also takes the time to flesh out the other characters in the story wonderfully, which makes it much easier on the reader who just picked up this volume and has read no other. The Hopeless-Savage clan is a great family that are realistically, albeit somewhat over-the-top in Osbourne fashion, portrayed in the way they interact: the mother worries about her youngest because Zero is just like her, the father is the peacemaker and more down-to-earth of the two parents, and the kids have found their own way as they grow up within the strange confines of their lives (how does the son of rock-and-roll royalty rebel? Corporate shillery of course).

The art is quite good and fits the story well. Bryan Lee O'Malley handles the bulk of the art chores and his style is something that reminds me of Jhonen Vasquez's Johnny The Homicidal Maniac or Invader Zim, but less dark and creepy, and no brains popping out of skulls. It's cartoonish but his characters are discernible and even individually animate, each having a style of movement key to the character (hard to do in a comic book). It fits the tale of teenage love very well.

The back-up artists also lend great creditability to the book: Andi Watson (Geisha, Breakfast Afternoon, Namor), Christine Norrie (Cheat), and Chynna Clugston-Major (Blue Monday) all jump onboard to drawn several flashback sequences, which helps to demonstrate that they are in fact flashbacks, not to mention making the comic more visually dynamic. And Terry Dodson's cover work for the series is sprinkled sparsely throughout the book, which is great to look at. Who doesn't like Terry Dodson art? Only those wacky communists, that's who.

It really is a great little story that hits all the high points of a teen love story, without taking itself too seriously. At $11.95, you get the main story, a sketch and pin-up section, and an introduction by Andrew Wheeler of The Ninth Art website (www.ninthart.com). Which just goes to show you, some people actually read reviews like these. People just like YOU! MUHAHAHAHAHA!

Editor's Note: As always, the opinions expressed by Mr. Sparling are not necessarily those of Fanboy Planet. We're not sure what he's laughing about, nor why he seems to be unaware the Cold War ended.

Robert Sparling

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