So…let’s talk about cheesecake for a second. Not the delicious desert, but the male gaze variety. Cheesecake, for those of you casual comic book readers, is a reference to the way female characters are portrayed in comics, often scantily clad and usually posing in ways the human body was never meant to bend. Whether or not she has a brain in her head is debatable, but cheesecake usually applies to the visual depiction of women in comics. It’s drawing women sexily for the sake of drawing them sexily. It contributes nothing to the story – assuming there is one – except to be a means of enticing male readers (and some women). And I’m not saying women can’t be depicted as sexy or that cheesecake is always a bad thing. There are some books that use cheesecake as a means of satirizing comics. Vampirella is a classic example. You have a scantily clad heroine vampire, but the comics frequently call attention to her attire and use wit as a means of undercutting the fact that there’s no way a woman, supernatural or otherwise, would be caught dead (puns are fun!) wearing her outfit. Even DC’s Ame-Comi Girls mostly pokes fun at cheesecake while adhering to the anime aesthetic that inspired the title in the first place. Because there is a lot of cheesecake in anime.
That being said, there are a lot of books, spanning every comic book publisher, that try to justify this particular artistic choice under the much maligned phrasing of the “strong, female character.” If a woman is scantily clad and still kicks ass, then it’s okay, right? If you ask me, not really, but I’ve already covered this issue before, so I’m not about to rehash it again. For the sake of skipping ahead, let’s just say that method of reasoning doesn’t sit well with me and leave it at that. But I can be objective and after reading Jirni #1 there are definitely some good things and some not-so-good things about the comic.
Jirni (I guess if you spelled it the other way it wouldn’t sound as fantastical…or I’d assume the book was about the band), is the story of Ara as she journeys (see, it’s not that confusing) to lands unknown to find her mother who was taken by a sorcerer and his enslaved D’jinn. Along the way she picks up a sidekick as she travels in an easterly direction and reminisces about how much she loves her mom. Oh, and she can turn into this purple, elf-like warrior when need be, though I’m sure subsequent issues will eventually explain that since neither the issue nor Ara offer up any answers as to why this happens. And that’s pretty much what happens. Granted, the first few pages are essentially our introduction to Ara’s purple badass side, but it’s a fairly straight forward introduction of a female warrior in a fantasy setting. Sexist remark. Stab. Quip. Death. It’s not bad, it’s just par for the course. As first issues go, it does its job of setting up Ara, her goal, some back story, and we get a glimpse of the villainous sorcerer holding her mother hostage and the power that he wields. Again, not bad, just…meh. I’m sure later issues will expand upon the world, but I wouldn’t say the first issue will grab readers because of the story.
J.T. Krul is a good writer, but the story he’s setting up is heavily overshadowed by the artwork. There’s no denying that Paolo Pantalena’s pencils and Brett Smith’s colors are absolutely beautiful. The quasi-Arabian Nights meets conventional fantasy aesthetic is definitely a highlight, even if Pantalena takes every opportunity to show the female characters’ assets…if you know what I mean. Yeah, you know what I mean. That Smith also keeps the comic mostly swathed in purple is a plus since it’s my favorite color and gives the book an interesting color palette. But beyond that, it’s a story that feels like a slow burn. Perhaps subsequent issues will pick up the pace, but for now you’ll have to be content with a basic introduction that holds at least some promise.
Final Thoughts: Just by looking at the cover you already know if you are or aren’t going to pick up the book. Choose wisely!