‘Lumberjanes’ #1 Is Your New Lumberjam [Review]
I've been excited about Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Shannon Watters and Brooke Allen's Lumberjanes since the day it was announced. It's been one of my most anticipated debuts of the year, and not just because Boom! Studios has been on a pretty solid roll of knocking out solid all-ages titles. Just the basic premise of a team of girls at summer camp fighting monsters in the woods with the power of friendship -- specifically the power of friendship to the max -- is so far up my alley that it might be committing a parking violation.
This week, saw the release of the first issue, and I'll admit that my expectations, as you may have already figured out, were pretty high going into it. The thing is, Lumberjanes #1 was even better than I expected on pretty much every level.
One of the best things about Lumberjanes -- a comic that has a list of "best things" about as long as the book itself -- is that it doesn't waste any time at all dropping you right into the action. It's actually a little jarring when you pop it open, because it goes straight to the weirdness in a way that I didn't expect. For a minute, I thought I might've even missed a few pages, because I had the idea that we'd see the girls arriving at the camp, maybe learn a little bit about them and their relationships before all the weirdness started. After all, that's usually how this stuff goes, right?
Nope. Page one, creepy woods. Page five, creepy three-eyed foxes getting punched right in the face.
And that's great.
My biggest problem with a lot of first issues is that they spend so much time on setting up characters that they push all the interesting stuff that's happening to those characters -- you know, the plot -- to the second issue and beyond. They become about building to an interesting last page rather than staying interesting right out of the gate, and as a reader, that can be really frustrating. The recent All New Ghost Rider #1, which I actually ended up liking, is a great example. Some really fun stuff happens in that first issue, but because it's so front-loaded with introductions, it feels like it takes forever to get to it. It wasn't until I actually went back and counted the pages that I realized it was an even split between 10 pages of character setup and 10 pages of car chase action -- it felt like there was a heck of a lot more of the former.
With Lumberjanes, it feels like the creators are bombarding you with what this book is actually about from the moment you pop open the cover. There's a tradeoff there, as the action comes at the expense of a little bit of the character development that you'd get with a standard introduction, but I actually prefer this way. The character comes through their actions, and while they're not quite solidified in my mind after this first issue, there's enough there that I'm interested to see how they continue to interact as the story goes on. It's that classic example of showing instead of telling in action, and it really works.
There are bits and pieces of the characters that are coming through really strongly already, in terms of the broad strokes -- Molly's the one who worries, April's studious and overprepared, Ripley is a teen girl Wolverine -- but what really comes through more than anything else the friendship on display.
That's a really tricky thing to pull off, especially in comics, where ensemble books have been built on a formula of constant conflict within the team since around 1961, but it's done really beautifully here. Nobody has to talk about their friendship or explain how they're going to stick together, it's just evident from what's going on -- and it's not so saccharine that it feels unbelievable, either. It feels natural, and it's also my favorite part of the comic. Friendship-based monster-fighting has been frustratingly absent in mainstream comics for way too long, and I'm more than ready for it to come back.
What I like most about the first issue, though, is that it's not just weird from the start, it's really weird. Like, disconcertingly weird, from the foxes with extra eyes to the messages they leave at the end of the opening sequence to the simple fact that their camp counselor is up all night whittling strange animals with an axe.
Everything's just weirdly off-center to the point of being unnerving, but in a really enjoyable way that's more "creepy fun" than horrifyingly disturbing, which is exactly what I want out of a book like this. The big, simple elevator pitch from back when it was announced was that it was Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Gravity Falls at summer camp, and it really does deliver on that promise. The creepiness is presented as something that exists everywhere, but if you stick with your friends and take everything head on as it comes at you, you'll be all right in the end. That's a really appealing idea, a huge amount of lighthearted positivity that underscores the adventure of what's happening to the characters without dismissing the idea that it is, in some form or fashion, a horror book where weird things happen and these characters may be in legitimate danger at all times. And that's what makes it fun.
That's an awful lot to cram into a single issue, but Lumberjanes #1 does that so well that I can't imagine it not being a huge hit. It's one of those books that resonated with me on a personal level in a way that I think is really universal, although to be fair, I'm basing that mostly on the fact that I'm a 31 year-old dude who's obsessed with Batman and Destro and hates going out into the woods more than virtually anything else that it is possible to do, which I think puts me as far from the primary target audience as you can possibly be. But at the same time, it works, and it works perfectly. It's solid, it's entertaining, it has a great hook, and the art is beautiful -- something that I didn't single out before now because it blends so well with the script that I can't help but think of it all as comic book storytelling. It's genuinely great stuff, and one of the most promising starts for a series that I've read in a long, long while.
Pick it up, and make the world a better place for Lumberjane scouts and everyone else.