Imagine you wake up in hospital in a strange land, with no money or identification. Now imagine that there are criminals on your tail trying to kill you for some unknown reason and you mysteriously know kung fu. These might sound like elements from any b-movie or pulp novel that’s come out any time during the past 50 years, but in Book Smart, the new graphic novel from the writing duo of Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, with art by Juan Santacruz, released through Kickstart Comics, it’s the key ingredients for telling a fun little romp in the world of an international super-spy.
A young woman, who later finds out her name is Samantha Rayne, is lost with amnesia in the mean streets of Nepal. She’s on her own and is being chased by criminals that believe she holds the key to finding a hidden cave full of stolen goods. Luckily for her, she gets some help from Sean McDermott, a fellow American who’s working overseas as an english teacher and agrees to be her guide through the city. The two are on a quest to stay one step ahead of their would-be killers and find out who Samantha really is. Part mystery, part action adventure, the story plays with the idea of the strength of sense memory – if you’ve lost your identity, do you retain your inherent skills and do they hold clues as to who you really are? The third act brings us a twist that answers the questions in a clever manner that is reminiscent of an old spy thriller from the 60s.
Palmiotti and Gray are long time partners when it comes to the world of comics. I have read a great deal of their work and whenever I see a new comic or graphic novel with the pair’s name on it, I always give it a read. I find that they consistently deliver a fun story with interesting characters. This book is no exception. The plot moves at the pace of a horror film – quick and sharp – which really adds to the dramatic tension of this plot. The characters are easily defined and you get a feel for them almost immediately. You feel for Sam and care about her right away. Sean is also easily like-able and the supporting characters are also well defined. The weakest character would be the villain, Chhota, who comes off a bit one-dementional, but still serves his purpose and does not take you out of the story. He could’ve been fleshed out a bit, but this may have come at the expense of the comic’s pacing. All in all, a great set of characters are brought to life in this adventure.
The only really weak point of the storytelling can be found in some of the dialogue. Particularly in Samantha’s dialogue. While I enjoy the character, I find some of the things she says to not really ring true, even for a character who has amnesia. For a woman who is obviously suppose to be quite intelligent, she sounds really dumb at points. Something that’s been a long time criticism on this writing team is that they have a hard time presenting women that sound like actual women. I have never been one to agree with this argument, but in this particular case, it does apply. Thankfully though, while the character doesn’t sound the greatest in parts, she is backed up by a strong plot line that corrects this by the end of the book.
The artwork by Juan Santacruz is the real star of this comic. Sleek lines with the right composition for the story that’s being told. In a story where suspense is driving the plot, it’s great to see an artist who understands how his art moves that suspense forward. The Samantha character looks especially pleasing and at the same time plausible. And the action sequences are the right amount of flash for the story without going too far.
In the end, while not the most amazing or original spy story I’ve read, I would say that Book Smart is worth your time and is an entertaining read to say the least. As always, Palmiotti and Gray deliver on the fun factor. And I’m definitely going to check out more stuff drawn by Santacruz as he was well showcased by this graphic novel. Look for Book Smart at your local comic shop or go to the Kickstart Comics website to buy it today.
And if you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!