In “Lumberjanes” #2 by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis and Brooke Allen, the girls encounter bizarre and supernatural dangers on what starts out as a typical canoeing trip.
Stevenson and Ellis open with a scene of the Lumberjanes prepping for the river trip, with each girl reacting in a way that sums them up. Ripley’s the tomboy and class clown who’s gunning for action. Huge-eyed, nerdy April has a dreamy air but is weirdly sharp, like a toned-down version of Luna Lovegood from “Harry Potter.” Jo is laconic, sarcastic and calm. Mal and Molly are visual and emotional foils, with brave and earnest Molly as a good match for the nervous and pessimistic Mal. Jen, their camp counselor, is the parent figure, and predictably, her presence will be neatly disposed of in order to allow the other five to have the kind of adventures one can only have without adult supervision.
There is pattern emerging with the plot: excitement and hi-jinks before equilibrium is restored, and then the characters encounter yet another bump a page later. For example, Mal’s near-drowning was predictable. No one expects a young central character in this kind of light and funny story to perish early on, and accordingly, her peril exists for the sole purpose of setting up the jokes for the CPR scene.
This is not to say that the script of “Lumberjanes” #2 is not without its surprises. The last page’s cliffhanger may hint at a plot twist that may finally have ramifications with staying power beyond a few pages. Also, the issue’s most dramatic development, the sea monster, is a great off-the-wall development. Stevenson and Ellis confound reader expectations, because Mal was really hamming it up with the paranoia and no one actually expected more hazard than perhaps a capsized canoe. Ripley’s subsequent encounter with the eagle adds a welcome follow-up note of serious creepiness. It’s impressive to achieve a tonal shift from zaniness to wonder and eeriness this quickly and effectively, and it’s clever of the creative team to subtly introduce and tease the reader with this mystery.
The bulk of the appeal is still in the dialogue and in Brooke’s facial expressions, though. The reader’s mileage will vary depending on exactly how much they enjoy these characters. Stevenson and Ellis do further flesh them out in “Lumberjanes” #2, but with limitations. “Lumberjanes” has the sensibility of a cartoon show or a sitcom, where characters have clearly defined, non-overlapping personality quirks that play off each other as new events pop up, without much dynamic development. In its ensemble cast and prevailing tone of the hyperactive shenanigans, “Lumberjanes” has a lot in common with the “My Little Pony” cartoon and comic series, but its presentation indicates an older target audience.
In addition to the facial expressions, Allen is particularly strong on body language, in a way that adds to both characterization and the tension of the action. She also knows how to pump up the reader’s adrenaline through composition and pacing. Laiho’s color palette alternates enjoyably between cool and warm. The sea monster scene is enhanced by her complementary hues for the water and the monster, and her choices for the character’s outfits, particularly April’s, show admirable attention to detail.
On the balance, “Lumberjanes” #2 is has less exposition and more action than the debut issue, but it’s still episodic, and continues to lack tension or build. However, the visual energy and ridiculous humor compensate for a lot, and the plot shows definite signs of progressing into a larger, overarching arc soon.