Rumble Girls: Silky Warrior Tansie
In Rumble Girls: Silky Warrior Tansie, Lea Hernandez mixes a prep school soap opera with fighting girl manga and forward-looking science fiction to skewer popular culture and media manipulation.
Raven Tansania Ransom is in training to be a rumble girl, the pilot of a hardskin, a robotic fighting suit. She’s reached that age where she’s starting to pay a different kind of attention to her coach, and she doesn’t even know yet that he’s also media phenomenon Crimson August, the man all girls dream of. When the empty suits (a terrific visual metaphor) that run the Crimson marketing empire decide he needs a nemesis to spice up the ratings, they pick Raven.
Carmen is her rival, the typical blond bitch who rules the school clique. Not only does she play pranks and come up with devastating names for teasing, she arranges potentially deadly illegal matches. All of the characters have more than one identity, many of which also involve gender switches. Tansie’s not searching for her background, but the quest finds her anyway. She’s a gutsy young woman fighting for herself in the face of pressures to be the right kind of girl, to fill the roles others have defined for her.
Once Raven’s been discovered, the story brings out the disadvantages to being a media darling. Individuals are chewed up and spit out by entertainment industries, because there’s always another one, better, younger, easier to deal with. For a young woman, it’s particularly hard, and the author is clearly outraged at how casually storylines are given “a hint of rape” to raise sales. The first two pages jump right into the meat, taking on the twisted view of female sexuality encouraged by the fantasy of being swept away by an older man.
There are more ideas here than in most comics, and they’re incorporated into the story, even tossed away. Other concept-driven books make a big deal out of their “mad ideas”, trotting them out and asking us to admire their display. This one uses them to build a world to support the story. Here, people can be gene-engineered to the point of changing their sex. Computers have real personalities, and virtual people comment on the story in the guise of entertainment newsies. Hernandez has created her own slang and incorporated the simplified alphabet of Unifon. There’s even a parapazzi in the form of a platypus.
There’s more to find in this book the more you read. I especially appreciated the theme of having to decide whether to work for yourself or a corporation. Although big companies wave greater riches and promises of security in the creator’s face, that’s only an illusion. Raven’s story shows they can dump their properties whenever they want. Giving of yourself creatively isn’t smart when no one values the sacrifice, and doing things on your own terms, with more control and more ultimate reward, is the harder but smarter choice. It’s a great read with thoughtful underpinnings.
Lea Hernandez has also written the how-to guide Manga Secrets and created Cathedral Child and its sequel Clockwork Angels.