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I was first introduced to the character of Painkiller Jane through the Scyfy show that aired in 2007 – thought I watched in when it was available on Netflix a a few years ago. The TV character and comic character share similar traits. Both are tough, rude, have trouble with rules, and have ridiculous healing abilities. However, where the Scyfy Painkiller Jane was developed as a 3d character complete with back story, emotions, and personal interests the comic versions veers away from this focusing on Jane’s body, action, and attitude.
Creator Jimmy Palmiotti describes the comics thusly:
If you loved Harley Quinn, won't you give PAINKILLER JANE a shot? Not as over the top, but still murderous fun.
— Jimmy Palmiotti (@jpalmiotti) January 26, 2014
A statement I would have to disagree with. Painkiller Jane is just as over the top as Harley Quinn, without the endearing insanity that makes the character work. Jane is depicted as a weapon wielded against police cases that aren’t “by the book”, never separating the character and her purpose into separate spheres.
The plot of Painkiller Jane: The Price of Freedom follows Jane as she must save and babysit a Saudi princess named Sabina Poonwalla.For unknown reasons, someone is attempting to murder Sabina utilizing drones, fake police, and a well-timed plane crash in the action-filled attempt. Jane of course, shows up to save the day while Maureen, her best friend, cleans up the aftermath.
The art for the issue feels simultaneously uninspired and garish. The art is primarily focused on either violence or women’s bodies, forcing the female characters into ridiculous poses. For instance, Jane attempts to climb over a barb-wired fence which conveniently shreds her shirt, while a car hits the fence, conveniently ripping her bra and paving the way for the first nip slip of the book – only nine pages in.
Of course, the art doesn’t merely focus on sexy bodies (though there is also a good deal of attention paid to Sabina’s curves). While taking refuge from a missile in a bathroom, we see a large black woman featured on the toilet. The next panel frames Jane and Sabina through the woman’s thighs and feet, adding a leopard print thong into the scene for another classy touch.
The redeeming feature of this issue is the “From The Beginning’ story in the back, giving readers a bit of backstory of the character. Here Sam Lotfi’s art turns Jane into more of a human than a pin-up, better balancing the line between sexy and exploitative. The addition of gloves to Jane’s tank-top and jeans getup adds a hint of power to her look, and the reduction of tits and ass shots makes the pages more readable.
The brief story also gives readers inside knowledge about Jane’s motivation and past – giving readers a glimpse into Maureen and Jane’s friendship. The writing and action seem much better balanced in this section, giving readers a glimpse of the title’s potential. Ultimately this glimpse is another letdown, as Lotfi does not return for Painkiller Jane: The Price of Freedom #2, so readers are left with what could have been something better.
I like my sexy ladies of comics (Mercy Sparx, Sara Pezzini etc.), but there has to be great storytelling, art or character development in order for them to be worth my time. Unfortunately those are things that this issue lacked, and despite Palmiotti’s heartfelt letter in the back about wanting to create strong female characters, this one just doesn’t make the cut.