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Tabula Rasa

Jaeger: 1-8

A Review by David Carroll, 2001

"You've heard of 'The Hunter', haven't you?"
"Assassin. Occasionally does business for us."
"Er, we won't go into that."

Jaeger is a mini-comic coming out of Storm Publishing in Sydney. Although there are no credits within the comics themselves, it is both written and drawn by Tanya Nicholls, and thus far eight issues have appeared. I'm told the next ten or so have already been completed, to be put out at a steady rate. The only other thing produced by the company thus far is called An Inside Look at Pregnancy, an amusing if reasonably conventional series of cartoons on the subject (the crossover potential between these titles is too scary to contemplate). It's a little hard to track down issues of Jaeger -- their web site makes things a lot easier -- but there's obviously quite a bit of effort being put into it. So what's it all about?

In short, it's the adventures of Marc Jaeger, vampire hit man. As I mentioned in my previous review of Mister Blood, hit men seem to be the most cheerful of protagonists these days, since once you start killing people for a living it seems to free up all sorts of other problems -- like pesky bouts of morality. And Marc is as mercenary as they come, with an enormous spread of contacts, and a determination to finish his jobs, no matter the personal cost. Although he favours a sniper's rifle, he also isn't adverse to getting down and dirty with his vampire powers when he has too -- although as other characters have already noticed in the series, his powers are somewhat unusual. So after taking a few issues to explore his world and his somewhat pragmatic approach to it, the comic starts introducing a more intricate plot as Marc tries to track down his unknown past -- or at least stop the various people trying to kill and/or recruit him because of it. Issue five is the turning point, really. Although a bit of an info-dump, it successfully melds the various hints of the previous issues into a coherent whole.

And it is, in fact, all pretty good stuff. As well as Marc we have an old business contact (and major league drug runner) in Sydney, along with a new enemy (a werewolf -- and ex-lover), the US government who are after him because they think he's been compromised, the Psionics Sciences Institute, who just seem to be caught up in the mess, and most importantly, the Nethermind, an insidious and powerful organisation ruled by the Father of Vampires, Azharoth. Despite all these threads and a couple more (I better not forget the psychopathic mage from another dimension), everything flows logically and at a good pace. It gives the impression that the author knows just what story she's telling, and how to go about doing it.

The other strength of the comic is Jaeger himself. There's certainly enough depth to him to make an interesting protagonist. He manages to completely throw off the image of the angsting vampire, and doesn't dwell on the sympathetic tropes that make hit men movies like The Professional and Grosse Pointe Blank so interesting, yet he still does invoke sympathy in his various plights. He takes off time between killing people to visit Mardi Gras -- he is flamboyantly and lustily gay, and the intertwining of his various lovers into the ongoing narrative is handled well -- and in more recent issues he is taking time off to go looking for a missing kid. Strangely, it seems one of his various covers -- Raden Fairlight, private detective and self-described nerd -- is a lot friendlier than Jaeger's usual persona. The missing kid plot is where the psychotic mage comes in and it's, um, interesting (I suspect I should warn you that this is not simply playing around with horror motifs here; there are a number of scenes which dive into a R-rating and beyond, which is dangerous stuff if only because it raises expectations of handling it properly. Thus far I am reasonably confident Tanya is doing so, but I guess we'll find out in the next few issues). Jaeger's line in cheeky comments, and various others spread through the comic, are also somewhat endearing.

Not everything works out as well as might be hoped, though. Then again, this is a self-published 20 to 24 page A5 comic, and improvements are being made. For example, in the first issue there are some problems with flow, as the reader tries to work out which panel is next in line, but these do get sorted out reasonably quickly. The art is not precisely professional, but is consistent and interesting, and the characters are all distinctive. Sometimes it does go beyond that and evoke some remarkable imagery. Perhaps the most consistent problem is the arbitrary throwing around of power levels. The Nethermind may be both insidious and powerful, but apparently 'everybody knows they run the country', which seems to be stretching it a bit (especially since, after eight issues, I have no idea what they actually do, which I guess might be the point). Likewise, the drug lord we meet is not only powerful, but he controls all the gangs in Sydney, setting them against each other. All this is a bit unnecessary, I think. It does play up the pulpy side of the comic, but most of the rest of it seems to have a different agenda. The action and methodology side of things is also a little lacking. The comic is more interested in uncovering its various plots, as well as general weirdness and nastiness, but some of the details of Jaeger's work are a bit generic to be completely involving.

Jaeger is a strange comic in many ways. Not the least of which is that whilst most mini comics explore small-scale taboos and intimate themes, this presents a sprawling plotline that mimics the mainstream, whilst keeping its anarchic origins reasonably intact. I hope it continues, and I also hope that its creator uses it as a springboard to bigger and better things.


Storm Publishing

Cover and Retrospective

Jaeger #1


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