She's A Nightmare by Jesse Chen, reviewed by Kelly J. Cooper
Have you ever met a woman who absolutely drives you nuts? Who knows just what to do and which buttons to push to completely upset your way of life, your plans and your peace of mind. Imagine that she's your enemy. Or worse yet, imagine that you are her enemy and she's after you. She can outthink you; she can anticipate your next move; she can outfight you; and she never plays fair.
She is more than a pain in the butt to you; she's worse than a bitch; She’s A Nightmare that just won't go away.
And Lydia LaMorn, Chen's main character, really is a nightmare - she's sneaky, smart, and very VERY dangerous. She's also drawn quite well. Chen has a very realistic style, and presents all different sorts of people with all different sorts of normal body-types, expressions, clothes, etc. One winning point is that the characters, including the bad guys in the first book, are each so clearly unique that they cannot be confused with each other.
He also does an excellent job with architecture. Many of his scene transitions open with a street piece featuring an exterior shot of the building we're about to enter. In terms of layout, Chen presents a standard comic book page that ranges from one to six panels. The pages look professionally inked, perfectly shaded, and exceedingly well colored. Chen also uses color to convey specific key emotions such as dangerous annoyance, romantic joy, or tense misery.
The stories are set in the present day. Lydia LaMorn and her partner Chris Blazon are "problem solvers," mainly in the Private Investigator sense, and they live and work in the fictional city of Baronton. With the possible exception of a slightly crazy Chinese herbalist, there's no magic or science fiction – just skilled and scary people living their strange lives. The unfortunate bring their sticky, complicated, deeply personal problems to Lydia, though not directly at first – it’s implied that the client’s initial contact is through a third party. Then Lydia, mainly with help from Chris and occasionally with the assistance of a motley crew of interesting supporting characters, seeks to solve the problem at hand. In the first book, their associate "Hacker" Jones brings them a case in the form of a doctor being pursued by thugs who seek her special knowledge. In the second book, Lydia works to protect a man who doesn’t know he’s in trouble. There’s also a backstory involving Lydia’s previous partner and some very bad people, hinted at in book one and more fully developed in book two. Overall, the work is fairly violent – Chen is not afraid to show blood, and each of the two books has at least two major fight scenes and a number of smaller moments where force is applied or implied.
The stories are well written and the lettering is always readable. Chen's plots are logical, and if they occasionally have moments of stereotype, he more than makes up for it by supplying us with witty repartee and fabulous fight scenes – sometimes both at once. Chen also has a very clever way of finishing a page in such a way that it dangles a bit – implying some immediate action that leads to great anticipation of the next page. For instance, here, where the dialogue in the final panel trails, here where an unknown shadow falls on the bad guy, and here where you can see a man loosening the ropes around his hands.
Chen just finished book two, which clocks in at eighty-three pages. There is a link to page one of the first book and page one of book two on the main page, with arrows and pull-downs for maneuvering through the archive. Book one was eighty pages long, and originally the entire thing was on the web. With the publication of a trade paperback of book one, however, only the first twenty-nine pages are still available online. Although Chen is good about communicating with his readers through his webpage, he doesn't mention anywhere that the rest of book one has been taken offline. If you want to read the entire thing, you're going to have to order the book.
Fortunately, you don't need to read book one to understand book two, although reading what's available will help cement most of the main characters in your mind, particularly since book two starts in media res. But if you don't read book one, the main things to know are (1) that when bad guys hear the name "Lydia LaMorn" they have generally negative and unhappy responses, (2) Lydia is very creative, sneaky, and willing to use violence to get her way, and (3) Lydia is an excellent fighter.
The overall feel to the comic is that of a clean and professional work, one that is well thought-out, thoroughly plotted, and nicely paced. Chen is consistent about putting new pages up and letting his readers know when there will be a delay. So check out this dream of a comic before the archives slip away, leaving you with nothing but a nightmare of lost opportunity.
Kelly J. Cooper is the Executive Editor for Features.