Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, where each week one of our contributors goes crazy over a book they just can’t seem to get enough of. This week, Arpad recommends the collected edition of ‘Henchgirl’, a particularly awesome supervillain satire from Kristen Gudsnuk and published by Dark Horse Comics.
By Arpad Okay. Make no mistake, Henchgirl is something you haven’t seen before. Kristen Gudsnuk has a dozen irons in the fire, every piece coming together to forge something thoroughly beguiling. Henchgirl didn’t meet my expectations so much as blow them away. There is a quality, a depth, secreted within these pages that I haven’t come across in a long time. How? By being more down-to-earth than you could expect from something so unrelentingly goofy.
Be they magic girl, mannequin, or mariposa, the characters of Henchgirl are all utterly human, with human flaws. Everybody in Crepe City has some kind of super-power. Your roommate. Your co-worker. Your mom and dad. But their peccadillos aren’t magnified to show you how normal they are. The flaws that humanize them are slight. Their pleasures are everyday, not hyper-normal, not striking. Just real. Cream cheese on a bagel. The city is a cartoon, a pun a minute, but the population keeps it grounded. And, over the course of the book, they change. Not because of the crazy stuff that happens in each chapter, but because real people grow up.
In Henchgirl, the well from which Gudsnuk draws is bottomless. There are heists and rescues, brushes with the apocalypse, the occasional time travel paradox. There are movie nights and catering jobs. Petty squabbles, alcoholic binges, gunplay. The internet is surfed. People get decapitated. The mundane and the supernatural mix, and not in the Mystery Men way we are accustomed to. Henchgirl is a kitchen sink book. And yet, it all holds together. You connect with their lives, and the relationships that blossom mean something. When the tragedy and comedy of the day to day hits them hard, it hits you, too. When the hero goes amoral and excels at it, it makes you wonder — if someone gave her a real job without any red tape, wouldn’t she be just as good at that? What’s really keeping the Butterfly Gang from reaching their full potential… evil, or banality?
Not that Henchgirl is as heavy handed as its underpinnings. If anything, it’s breezy. It’s frequently absurd. Gudsnuk writes whatever the heck she wants into this book, and man, she loves throw-away gags. Little jokes fill every corner, every T-shirt and billboard, every menu, every website. More wordplay with butterflies and crepes than you can imagine; they don’t drive the story, but they certainly reveal themselves in the deep read.
Sometimes it’s straight satire: Batman and Sailor Moon both get the business. Some of it is unpredictable. The girl who shoots carrots from her veins serves them as cake. Even the gore is played the Gudsnuk way: a villain gets popped like a balloon, an eyeball is dunked in a champagne glass, and you just have to laugh.
Kristen Gudsnuk is a comic book Frank Sinatra. She writes how she wants. She draws how she wants. She does it her way. The aesthetic for Henchgirl ranges from a Hutch Owen, dyed-in-the-wool indie vibe to Lum Invader — sleek, but without all the boobs (Gudsnuk speaks directly to different female body types and experience). She ramps up the detail to pull off Ren & Stimpy-level comedic beats and plays with dutch angles like Billy Wilder. Every aspect of making a comic, Kristen Gudsnuk has mastered with such subtlety… it’s almost easy to miss. Henchgirl is sequential art for the sequential artist, but sweet and heartfelt and silly enough for any and everybody else. Put this casual masterpiece on your shelf, people, and then start watching for whatever Gudsnuk does next.
Dark Horse Comics/$17.99
Written and illustrated by Kristen Gudsnuk.
Edited by Shantel LaRocque.
Design by Brennan Thome.