- Posted by Johanna on April 15, 2006 at 11:46 am
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: by Paul Sizer
- PUBLISHER: Cafe' Digital Comics; $24.95 US
The Little White Mouse is Loo, a teenager trapped on a deserted mining station after her spaceship crashes. Her only companions are the maintenance droids Boris and Dieter and the ghost Pascal. As she struggles to survive and to rescue her sister’s consciousness from their ship’s computer, we learn more about family, her motivations, and the inspiration of the human spirit.
The book opens with a four-page chapter written with a classic “had I but known” approach. Spunky Loo and her sister P’Heng are leaving their close-knit family for the Galactic Science Academy. A disaster en route leaves Loo the only survivor. It’s a great introduction, since it sums up what Loo’s lost and what motivates her. Reading just that section should indicate to a casual observer whether they’ll enjoy the rest of the book. (For long-time readers, these four pages are new to this edition, but they aren’t crucial to the overall story, since much of the setup has been referred to or can be inferred from other chapters.)
Next, Loo holds a “Picnic” and drives the droids crazy by insisting they pretend with her. She’s creative, fun-loving, and refuses to take anything too seriously. (If she did, she wouldn’t be able to survive, faced with the magnitude of the events stacked against her.) As the book progresses, she moves from keeping herself entertained to learning more about the computer controlling the station to outwitting pre-programmed routines to engineering her own rescue.
Flashbacks and cutaways show Loo’s family then and now. In the past, they instilled in her the qualities she needs to survive; in the present, they miss her deeply and never give up hope. Loos believes in herself and her abilities because her family, especially her grandfather (who nicknamed her), believed in her first.
Another story, “Hair of the (Cyber) Dog”, is an homage to classic cartoons. Loo is pursued by the station’s guardian robot in an elaborate chase sequence that gives the reader a better idea of the space station layout and its technology. She’s got to outrun it before she can outwit it.
“Boarding Party (A Kiss in a Dream)” takes the overall premise in a different direction with a tale of pirates invading the station. Their leader has a lot in common with Loo, and hints of time travel provide a possible explanation.
“Fever Dream!” is my favorite LWM story. It’s one of the most in-depth, and there’s a fun sense of play within both the art and the story events. While sick, Loo has a manga-flavored dream, yet this is the time she’s most honest with herself and we learn a lot about her fears, desires, and perceptions.
Given the apparently limited setting of this series, I was surprised to realize the extent of the storytelling possibilities, which are carried out in terrific style with loads of imagination. The tales vary in time, space, and genre, making for a diverse read. Although the setting and story are technologically-driven, the art is organic, very fluid.
The characterization, especially, is surprisingly challenging. For example, “Filthy Jake” Armani may look frightening, but he winds up saving Loo’s life more than once, just as Loo’s own appearance belies her survival skills and imagination. Another important contrast is seen in how P’heng’s analytical nature nicely balances Loo’s impulsiveness. Boris and Dieter have partially filled that role now that Loo is alone, but she’s also learning to balance herself.
The possibility of a romance with Pascal is contrasted with her duty to P’heng. This conflict between establishing oneself through choosing your associates and maintaining one’s responsibilities toward the family shows her to be a typical teenager. In her case, Loo’s heritage (as shown through the family flashbacks) makes this even more difficult. As Loo enters puberty, her relationship with Pascal combines aspects of mentor-friend and inspiration-crush, complicated by her not quite knowing what he is or if he even exists. Also contrasted are Loo’s feelings about her tomboy status compared to her “fashion plate” sisters; the characteristics they berated her over are what’s keeping her alive.
These stories often use an adventure structure to demonstrate character growth. Past the cliffhangers and threats, there’s not just a Loo who’s becoming more adult, but also cultural commentary. This shouldn’t be surprising, since the outsider character has long been used to shed insight on what’s important to society. Loo is not only alone through being trapped in a deserted setting, she’s also at that adolescent point in her life where she’s mentally considering herself different from everyone else.
There’s visual action, but there’s also an interesting debate about the responsibility of science, plus deeper hints of the need for a mature human being to not waste their potential, whatever it may be. The philosophical questions are intriguing, and the characters’ conflicts are affecting and involving.
Sizer tackles some more adult concerns in one of the last chapters, when Loo visits an intergalactic strip joint. Teela, the owner’s daughter and featured dancer, and Loo are about the same age, but their lives have taken obviously different paths. Their encounter challenges Loo’s judgmental attitude, while Teela is exposed to more alternatives than the life she’s known so far. Aside from bounty hunter action, this story touches on the nature of power, especially when it comes to how men and women think about each other.
Learning to accept who she is now instead of who she used to be is an important step in Loo’s growing up, and one everyone has to go through at some point. Our internal visions of ourselves, and our assumptions about what activities are good and bad, have to be reset at various points in our lives, and it’s rarely easy. Loo’s lucky, in a way, because she has clear dividing points in her life and her journey, and she’s accompanied by other strong personalities who love her no matter who she becomes.
Loo’s tale has a certain resonance for me. At times, her situation seems like a fantasy escape — solitude with minimum interaction in a setting where creativity and problem-solving is valued and she has to rely on her wits, not her looks or connections, to survive. At other times, especially when dealing with her family or her relationship with Pascal, it’s almost too realistic in the emotions portrayed. The character’s also quite an inspiration. Even in a terrible situation with no apparent way out, Loo keeps her cool, her initiative, and her sense of humor. She’s a great role model, and a fun read.
This super-sized volume also contains contributions (usually sketches) by Geof Darrow, Chris Sprouse, Mike Oeming, Jeff Moy & W.C. Carani, Mark Crilley, Matt Feazell, and others. (I wrote the Foreword to the earlier collection of the second series, a piece also included in this book.) It’s a gorgeous book, compact and with a wonderful substantial feel in the hand. More publishers could take note of how well it’s laid out, with clear credits, a table of contents, and easily readable page numbers.