Ever since I visited the Bashiva #1 page on Comixology for details for a recent Cover Girl entry, my targeted Comixology ads have been… interesting. Some of the books are a hard pass, while others have been eye catching enough to make me want to explore further. Which brings us to this review of Punchline Volume 1: Blood Sisters.
Punchline Volume 1: Blood Sisters
Tiago Barsa (colourist), Brian Denham (artist), Neeraj Menon (colourists), Megan Sloane (editor), Matthew Weldon (co-creator, artist), Bill Williams (co-creator, writer, letterer), Thom Zhaler (letterer)
April 19, 2019
Punchline opens with a woman on her last legs. Mortally wounded, Mel is painstakingly making her way through a graveyard, trying to escape her soon-to-be assassins. The coincidence of her location is not lost on her as she texts a loved one her final goodbyes and then slumps onto a bench — that happens to be already occupied by Jessie, a sullen teen who was just looking for some peace and quiet to draw and escape from her home life. And so begins a beautiful not-so-friendship as Mel offers up her superhero powers to Jessie. But, as it turns out, Mel doesn’t die, as expected. How fortuitous, since the very green but gung ho Jessie is definitely in need of some training.
Given how I came upon this particular book, I was skeptical, but unlike Bashiva and some of the other titles that popped up in my ads, Punchline’s cover wasn’t trying to sell itself based on objectification. And, thankfully, given that this is a book focused on a teenage character, the content wasn’t about that either. Jessie is both written and drawn respectfully for her age, with fitting dialogue, attitude, and attire. In fact, her attire is one of my favourite parts of the book. As her alter ego, Versema, she wears what has become one of my favourite costume designs. From the geometric shapes and angles to the colour combination and unique cape design, I am loving every piece of Versema’s look.
Brian Denham works visual wonders with Jessie/Versema in combination with Bill Williams’ writing. As a first time superhero, she takes to the lessons quickly, but with expected physical difficulties. Out of uniform, there’s no leaning into the awkward teen tropes that sometimes overshadow writing about young adults. Jessie is written with an equal blend of maturity, confidence, snark, wonder, stubbornness, and ethics that makes her an ideal hero in contrast to Mel, who, as we learn more, might not be as heroic as Jessie assumed.
Like the rest of the story, the action sequences aren’t afraid to mock some of the superhero sequences we’re used to. Firmly stepping away from perfectly spine-wrenching poses, Punchline isn’t afraid to let its main character look a little goofy and out of sorts at times, but Versema always seems to bounce back.
We don’t get to learn much about Mel in this first volume. Or the world in which they live. We do know that superheroes and villains are quite commonplace, so it’s apparently not unusual that Jessie jumps into her new skin without much question and is welcomed on the beat with little skepticism. There seem to be some loose rules and regulations about how everything works and how superheroes work together and with the authorities. Mel doesn’t bother to go into much detail about any of it, leaving both Jessie and the reader in the lurch at times.
Though the dialogue is slick, sardonic, and doesn’t waste words, there’s often a sense that we’re missing part of the conversation. As if Jessie and Mel are sharing inside jokes and information that we’re not privy to. It almost makes the storytelling feel disjointed, but it also serves as very subtle hooks to entice that “would you like to know more?” feeling.
The title of this book also made me curious because of the recent introduction of a new Batman villain by the same name. I wanted to know if Antarctic Press’ character had beaten the Joker’s not girlfriend to the punch. By the end of the volume, it’s not entirely clear who or what the actual punchline is, much less who is the butt of the joke, whether it be Mel, Jessie, superheroes in general, or the readers. Punchline casts a subtle side-eye at the superhero/villain business, and I’m intrigued enough to read on to find out just who gets to have the last laugh.