Hopefuls #1: The Private Life of Jane Maxwell
Jane Maxwell, a comics artist and writer recently fired from her job in the wake of a social media firestorm kicked up by bigoted fans, finds herself dragged into a parallel universe where her hit superhero series is reality. Mostly. This world’s alternate versions of her high school friends really are the superheroes she based on them for her comics, with one exception. Instead of the male headliner Jane’s publisher demanded, the real heroes’ leader is Jane’s own counterpart. And she’s missing.
The team needs Jane to pose as her alternate self to draw out a diabolical new villain who’s wreaking havoc on their city. Jane wants to refuse, much more comfortable living on the safer side of the page, but there’s one other important difference in this alternate reality: Jane’s late wife, Clair, is still alive.
There are a few little errors and some awkward transitions between past and present tense. About half of the superhero team is pretty undeveloped, but that’s okay. Having a full team is necessary to the concept and setting, and they take an understandable back seat to the main characters’ story.
There’s also some slight muddying of the themes, in the nature of Clair’s superpowers and place on the team. Jane has often had misgivings about giving Clair’s character something as passive as empathy, which keeps her out of most of the action, but then finds out it’s because that’s just the way she is in the alternate universe — the same alternate universe where the sexism of her publisher generally doesn’t apply. That said, Clair’s powers are pretty essential to the plot, and she’s much more interesting than the average mind-powered love interest (*coughJeanGreycough*).
The Private Life of Jane Maxwell is an absolute must for any prose-reading comics fan, written with evident understanding and love for both media. Thoughtful internal monologue, too detailed to be contained in little square text boxes, is interspersed with visual descriptions so bright and vivid they’re like having the lovingly composed pages of a comic book beamed directly into your mind, all wrapped around a story that embraces both the colorful, silly melodrama and the complex emotional speculation that comics universes are capable of.
For all the lush, immersive description, not a word is wasted without pulling the reader deeper into the story and the hopes and fears of its characters. Within a few short chapters of being introduced to Jane, seeing her thrown into a room with her dead wife’s doppelganger has the kind of impact so many superhero TV shows can only dream of pulling off with the help of five or six seasons of familiarity and context.
This is a story that contains flamboyant costumes, evil twins, and a guy called Doctor Demolition. It’s also a story that delves deeply into what it would feel like to learn that your life is just one possible version of itself, and to meet another version of your lost love, who isn’t lost and was never your love, at least not yet. Where so many writers would only get as far as recognizing that this is awkward and painful, Gott pushes through to what comes after that, what the strange nature of their relationship is, and how that shakes their understanding not only of relationships but of their own identities.
The result is a unique adventure and love story, plus an introduction to a compelling new superhero title with the potential to be as iconic as the best of them.
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