"I just want to go home. I am very tired of all this craziness."
--Jadit, Book Smart
Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray are my favorite writing team in the comics world. They've written a ton of Jonah Hex and are currently working on All-Star Western for DC, but what they do best, in my opinion, is create independent comics that have the style of a Hollywood action movie. One of these (and their latest effort) is Book Smart, published by Jason Netter's Kickstart Comics, which features the gorgeous artwork of Juan Santacruz and Juan Manuel Tumburus.
The story (and with these guys, it's all about the story) starts in the Himalayas, where a woman discovers what appears to be a shrine of some kind. Her guides knock her out and steal her survival gear, leaving her stranded in the cold. Someone discovers her and takes her to a doctor in Nepal, who tells this poor lady that she's suffering from temporary amnesia--she can't remember her name, her address, or even what she looks like.
The doctor sends the woman to an English teacher named Sean McDermott, who agrees to help her find out who she was and where she came from. Meanwhile, a Nepali terrorist named Choata is searching for the same woman, since she discovered the shrine, which is not a shrine at all, but a depot for surplus communist weapons.
As this comic unfolds we discover a few things about the woman, who adopts the name Samantha Rayne--she can take care of herself in a fight and sends more than a few of Choata's men back to their master in shame; she's witty, smart, and cool under pressure; and her and Sean have this really cute "do they love each other or don't they" thing going on.
Add to this the accurate depiction of Nepali society and its corrupt government workings and you have a graphic novel that's simply a lot of fun to read. Palmiotti and Gray keep things fresh by creating an intriguing setting for Samantha's adventure and keeping everything within the realm of plausibility. Their dialogue has always been their strong point, and it shines on every page of Book Smart.
Santacruz's lines are clean and highly detailed, giving Nepal, the Himalayas, and the other locations in the story a vividness that you don't find in other books. Juan Manuel Tumburus's colors are bright and fit the art like a glove. Of special note are the bluish tones used inside the shrine of weapons and the icy Himalayan regions.
If you're looking for an action film but don't know which one to watch, don't watch any of them--pick up Book Smart, which has all the trimmings of an international spy thriller packed into one handy 88-page graphic novel. For only nine bucks you can't go wrong, you're spared the cost of popcorn and overpriced soda, and with the talents of Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, you know it's going to be one heck of a ride.
If you like Book Smart, you might also like Trailblazer and The Tattered Man, available from Image Comics for $5.99 and $4.99, respectively. Both are written by Palmiotti & Gray and feature similar Hollywood movie-style plots. I highly recommend checking them out if you're a fan of independent comics and/or just want something different from the superhero norm.
--Justin A. Swartz