RETRO REVIEW- Painkiller Jane (1997)

 

Painkiller Jane is more than a story about a woman out for revenge; it’s more than a tale about the sacrifice of those that answer the call of duty; it’s more than a super hero comic- Painkiller Jane is a tragedy; a cautionary tale against the cost of addiction; the loss of innocence; and the unfairness of fate.

Jane Vasko was a bright, promising police cadet who was engaged to her high school sweetheart, excited to be serving at the side of her best friend Maureen, and who had the world at her feet. It didn’t take long for Jane to excel on the job for the NYPD, and soon the higher-ups at the D.E.A. took notice and enlisted Jane to go undercover to take down a pair of NYC’s worst drug kingpins.

Jane served with blind faith, certain that she would be safe with her friend at her side, but after going too deep into her cover and becoming a strung out junkie she is betrayed by her best friend Maureen who outs herself as a cop and leaves Jane at the mercy of the dealers.  The dope fiends decide that the best way to get rid of Jane is to pump her full of a highly unstable designer drug that affects the users DNA. One hit from the needle and Jane is gone.

Two years pass in a coma.

Then one night Jane awakens. Her body has been forever altered. She is now able heal at an incredible rate. She runs away from the hospital only to discover that her parents have died, her high school sweetheart has moved on and married another, and only her friend Maureen has remained through it all. The choice is made to announce that Jane died in her coma to allow her to come back to the world as something new and deadly. Enter Painkiller Jane.

The twist to this first installment of the Painkiller Jane series is that the character’s origin is revealed in flashbacks. Jane is recounting her story to a dying woman; an unfortunate soul who was caught up in the crossfire of a drug deal gone wrong. It’s the transition between the present and the past that really takes the story and gives it an added punch to the gut. Jane is just a dead as the wounded woman she is recounting her life story to, the only difference is that at the end of this tale Jane is still drawing breath; she might be alive, but she is numb and dead on the inside.

The series only gets more complex and layered as it rolls along. We soon learn that while Jane may have the ability to absorb amazing amounts of punishment; we watch as Jane is run over, shot, stabbed, electrocuted; there is a limit to the damage she can withstand. The second big storyline involves Jane getting stabbed in the heart with a giant piece of glass. It’s enough to put her in the ER, but this hospital just also happens to be the same hospital where a local serial killer dubbed “The Mercy Killer” is employed.

The comic weaves the fate of multiple characters and their storylines with ease. As Jane is fighting to heal herself from a grievous injury she is placed at the mercy (no pun intended) of the Mercy Killer, meanwhile a group of thugs who work for a pissed off mob boss have infiltrated the hospital in hopes of killing Jane while she’s at her weakest. What ensues is a fight between Jane and the serial killer, while Jane’s friends, members of the 22 Brides (another Event Comics title) fight off the mob. It’s an action extravaganza.

It’s this high-octane mix of action and drama that makes this series a standout. The creative team shows mastery at pulling on the right strings when it comes to playing off of the reader’s emotions. One moment we are thrilling at the sight of Jane crashing through a pane of glass as she fires off a dozen rounds at bad guys, and then the very next moment we are yearning for this woman to finally have some peace in her life of suffering.

It is apparent why Marvel felt compelled to hand Quesada and Palmiotti the reins to a whole new line of titles when the house of ideas launched the Marvel Knights line. These two artists had already showed on multiple occasions that they had the necessary chops to produce great comics month in and month out. In fact it was characters like Jane that saved Marvel.

Event Comics happens to be one of the best kept secrets in comic history. If this company had not been at the forefront of the nineties comic book movement, then Marvel may not have pulled out of its financial nosedive. Fans often forget that during the aftermath of the comic bubble bursting that even Mighty Marvel was hit hard enough that the company had to file chapter 11 bankruptcy.  In these lean times Marvel had to take risks to regain readership and part of that recovery was inviting Quesada and company into the fold to create the Marvel Knights line; a line that would go on to revitalize second tier characters like Daredevil and the Punisher.

Which brought in creators like Brian Michael Bendis, Kevin Smith, and Garth Ennis.

Which led to Quesada taking over as Marvel’s Editor-in-chief.

Quesada would go on to be a major force behind Marvel’s expansion and the driving force behind the Ultimate line, and Marvel pushing into the cinematic realm. Without Event comics there might not be a Marvel cinematic Universe. There might not be a Marvel at all.

Painkiller Jane is not only a force of nature, but her and her creators have had an unsung impact on comics as a whole. Not only is this a great hidden gem that is worth digging through long boxes to find, but also an important piece of comic book history that opened doors to fans and creators alike.

Final Score: 4 out of 5 stars

RETRO REVIEW- Painkiller Jane (1997)
Issues Covered: 0-5
Publisher: Event
Story: Joe Quesada, Jimmy Palmiotti, Brian Augustyn and Mark Waid
Art: Amanda Conner, Rick Leonardi, and Eric Battle
Inks: Jimmy Palmiotti and Ken Branch
Colors: Elizabeth Lewis, Ben Prenevost  and Will Quintana
Letters: Richard Starkings

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