The name “Frenemy of the State” is, seriously, one of the best titles for a new series I’ve heard in a long time. So while I’m normally a little hesitant about trying a celebrity-helmed comic (many times they look like little more than a movie proposal starring said celebrity), for that reason alone I decided it was worth a shot. And after all, isn’t being tabloid fodder the perfect cover for a CIA agent? After all, any oddness can just be ignored as, “She’s a celebrity, why try and understand her?”
The comic’s opening pages, a parody of a certain celebrity blogger’s website, surprised me how quickly they set up our main character Ariana Von Holmberg and her position in today’s society, as well as the party she’s attending. It’s a smart way to kick off the comic, and from there we start delving into the character of Ariana, herself. Rashida Jones, Christina Weir, and Nunzio DeFilippis focus heavily on Ariana’s personality and past in the first issue, showing her as both smart and reckless, a dangerous combination. While her accomplished side currently outbalances her flaws, I give them credit for trying to find that balance between the two early on and make sure we don’t come across with too much of a “Miss Perfect” impression towards Ariana. I will admit that it was hard to not try and picture Jones in the role of Ariana. It would certainly be a fun character to play; you get to be glamorous but also kick butt at the same time, and verbally as well as physically defeat your enemies. “Frenemy of the State” will live or die based on the character of Ariana, and for now I think she works.
The story itself is good, starting and ending with her first mission while slipping an origin flashback in the middle to explain just how a socialite/celebrity ended up working as a CIA agent. I do wish there had been more of a cue to the reader that we’d suddenly entered a flashback (the page background flips from white to black), but that aside I thought the flashback itself was a tiny bit too long; we get the point pretty quickly on what’s happening, and I found myself more interested in the present day storyline at the party and wanted to see a lot more of it, instead. If we’d gotten a bit more of her there, I think it would’ve finished grabbing my attention. Right now it gets almost all the way there, but then hits the cliffhanger moment before I’m 100% committed.
Jeff Wamester’s art is all right but could use some work. My big complaint is that he has a limited number of faces for his characters; Haven and Ariana look so similar that at first I thought it was leading towards the revelation that they were estranged sisters. (As it turned out, the bitchiness between them wasn’t because of family bonds but because of their “frenemy” status.) Ariana, likewise, has the same expression on her face for almost the entire flashback. With a little variety it would perk up the visuals a great deal. There are some cute moments in the art, though. The big red arrow saying, “Right There” and pointing at Ariana is a perfect visual attention grabber, especially when it follows up with the line of dialogue, “That was where I made my biggest mistake.”
“Frenemy of the State” #1 is a solid debut, but it hasn’t hit the level of great yet. With more action and less exposition, things should perk up, and there are some tweaks that still need to be made to the art. So long as Jones, Weir, and DeFilippis continue to keep up the clash between spies and socialites, though, I suspect I’ll be entertained. Bring on the snobbery and secrets!