May 8, 2009

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Water Baby

Written by Sophie Campbell
Illustrated by Sophie Campbell
Minx

[Editors' note: At the the time this review was written, Sophie Campbell was known as Ross Campbell. She has since transitioned. The review focused on why a book for girls written by a man did not work. Obviously, there was no way to know in 2009 that Sophie would transition. Rather than re-edit the review, I've left it alone. -Rob]

DC pulled the plug on the Minx line awhile back before really giving it a chance to do anything. This is the second Minx book I've read, and it has the feel of an Oni Press book, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The other was more like a traditional shojo, part of the market DC was coveting when they launched Minx (even though they have a manga line, CMX). I'm starting to wonder if maybe that was the part of the problem with Minx (beyond the excellent points of Johanna from Comics Worth Reading). Designed as a line of comics for young women, DC just threw everything at the wall and hoped it would stick, propped by a significant amount of advertising.

Well, it didn't. "Water Baby" is a good example of why--this is a male-written book (I mean, really--would it have been too hard to talk to Louise Simonson or Devin Grayson, just to name two female comics creators that DC has used in the past?) that tries too hard to establish the strength of its female lead and then leaves her to flounder like a fish out of water, which is kinda ironic given the plot.

It's not that there's anything really wrong with the plot, as far as it goes: A rather wild-child teenaged girl named Brody gets bitten by a shark and has nightmares over and over relating to the incident. Rather than get help, she ignores the problem and finally runs away with her best friend and ex-boyfriend, who end up picking up a scary (and sexy) young woman with designs on our protagonists. Things get progressively weirder, and by the end, our heroine is left wondering wht the hell she did all this for.

Which is perfectly okay, because by the end, I was wondering why in the hell I was reading it. The builldup for the story just never has a payoff. The nightmares never lead anywhere, other than to make Brody jumpy. Her friend kinda gets tempted by the ex, but that, too, wanders off onto a side road and never gets addressed. It's as though Campbell was trying to set up a series, but there's no reason to think that, not even a "the end?" kind of thing that might make me feel better about how things peter out. Instead, this feels rather like book one of three, or a D&D campaign that didn't get finished (analogy used because the writer worked on RPG books).

Campbell's art is pretty solid, and honestly, her dialog felt fairly natural to me. The characters don't act too far out of place, though I wonder why such a strong young woman would ever stick around a loser like Jake. I just can't believe she'd agree to take a trip with him, even to get him out of the neighborhood. (This would have worked better, I think, if she had gone to try and "save" her friend, who sorta crushes on Jake.) In another place, I think I'd even like Campbell's style. But here it just falls flat for me, because I want something that reads more like, well, Andi Watson, a man who can in fact write women well in plots that, even if I don't always like them, at least end having accomplished something. Unfortunately, this book, rather like Minx as a whole, just doesn't get around to having a point for its existence.

Minx's claim was "your life, your books." The trouble is that this is is written by a man who got his start doing RPG books, as I mentioned above. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's hardly the type of person I'd be asking to help pilot a new line of books aimed at young women. I mean, I'm a total geek. I own more board games than Toys R Us will ever stock, I know what MMMS stands for, and I sing Monty Python in the shower. I'm reading every single Star Trek book adaptation in chronological order for Christ's sake. But even I don't do RPGs, and tend to think of the people who do as uber-geeks. A man who states he likes zombies, horror movies, and barbarians is a man I'd love to internet chat with. But I'm a 31 year old man.

And if you *are* going to get an uber-geek to write a female teen book, make sure he lists "shojo" as a main interest. If I were a parent, the bio on Campbell probably would have turned me off getting this for my daughter.

All in all, this feels very much like a man trying to write a story about what a girl might want to read and used a generic road trip template with a few plot ideas we don't get to see nearly enough of to flesh it out. Again, it's not bad, but hardly something I'd recommend and hardly something I can see leaping off the shelves. If you're looking to give the Minx line a try, I'd start elsewhere.