Five, five, five stories in one thin volume, for the price of one! How can you beat THAT for your graphic entertainment pleasure? What’s more, these black-and-white illustrated short tales have as their heroine Jay Nova, an African American woman with mind-reading abilities who helps desperate clients out of dangerous situations they can’t go to the law with. She and her colleague, Randy Michaels, work as private eyes in their company, Light Star Investigations. Jemir Robert Johnson takes a great conception and runs with it in a fine collection that shows a lot of promise for the future of this hip crime-fighting duo.
“Dead Line,” the first offering in the collection, involves Randy’s being threatened at gunpoint by an elderly man in an office. He and Jay have a deadline to meet, one that is rapidly drawing to a close: they have three hours to find something that the old man wants and bring it to him. Jay hits the streets using her persuasive fighting skills and mind reading to locate someone who knows about the never-defined mysterious thing that the man wants before the time, and possibly Randy’s life, is up. Good concept, but I would have preferred that the “thing” the old man wants be eventually revealed, so the story’s readers could have an idea about what the old man thinks is so important that he’d kill somebody to have it back in his possession.
“Sunset” is about Jay and Randy’s search for a hard-partying debutant who’s gone missing. They’ve been hired to find her and bring her back to her parents. The first few blocks of action depict a man running, and on the second page, we realize that he’s being pursued by Randy, who catches and questions the small-time thug known as “Roach”. Jay knows through her psychic abilities that Roach knows where the girl, Tina, is, but they let him go so he can lead them to her. Randy and Jay confront the armed motorcycle-riding gang behind Tina’s kidnapping before eventually rescuing her from their clutches.
“The Knight in Question” and the last story, “Burning Flag,” were the ones that I thought were the most consistent in their overall quality of art, though all of the stories on the whole are drawn pretty well, excepting some uneven panels here and there.
“The Knight in Question” is about a rapper (with the somewhat silly name of “Nature Marsalis Ewing”) desperately trying to protect his “street cred,” When his best friend is murdered, he contacts Randy and Jay to get to the truth. Too many panels are spent on exposition in this story, but the story hold one’s interest and is on a topic (rap music and the violence that sometimes goes hand-in-hand with it) that is sure to appeal to the teen audience this is probably directed at.
“A job gone wrong” aptly describes the fourth story, “Forward Fast,” in which Randy rescues a young woman, Debbie, from gun toting dudes with bad attitudes. Jay uses her martial arts when she’s cornered in an alley, kicking butt in her own bad-ass way. The plot is a bit confusing, but I think some guy called Kev is behind the kidnapping of the ex-wife and daughter (Debbie) of a rich man to obtain ransom money, and Randy and Jay are hired to rescue them as unobtrusively as possible. As is usual for them, things don’t quite go the way they’d like them to, and violence ensues, although they are (also as usual) successful in the end.
The final of the five tales is a change of pace, focusing almost entirely on Jay and her relationship with one of her sisters when Jay goes back to her old stomping grounds to visit and attend the funeral of (possibly her cousin?) Carlo. The “flags” of the title, if I understand the story correctly, are the graffiti that various gangs spray paint on walls. There are a couple of bloody catfights before all is said and done, and a lot of it deals with rival gangs like the NTM, or North Terrace Mafia, seeking retribution. Oh, for the good ‘ol, gang-banging days...such memories (just kidding, of course)!
Graphic novels featuring minorities are not as unusual as they once were, but it’s still nice to see some diversity presented in this format. The five stories in 5 Shots are at times a bit difficult to follow, and I would have liked the stories to be longer. On the whole, they make for a nice quintet that should appeal to Jemir Johnson’s growing fan base. Johnson is going to release a full-length Jay Nova graphic novel in early 2009 (I hope it’ll be in color) that I’m looking forward to checking out, but until then, these five tales will have to serve to appease Johnson’s rabid fans.