Hello, my friends. No matter what line of work we all go through, we’re forced to endure several strenuous hardships on both a physical and mental level. For one particular street-level woman, she’s gone through a lot of physical hardships in the name of delivering justice. Needless to say, the things that she’s gone up against aren’t exactly the kind of things that any regular human could possibly survive, no matter their level of training. With that said, it’s time for us to look back at a quarter-century amount of spent bullet shells, spilled blood and the deceased bodies of fiends that tried to take our featured female on, yet ultimately failed. As such, I welcome you to a historical overview called…
For 2021, we’re going to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of this independently-created character and look back at all of the harrowing adventures that she’s been on, the characters that she’s crossed paths with and the various publishing studios that would handle the documentation of her journeys. As such, let’s finally get into her humble debut.
Originally created by Jimmy Palmiotti and Joe Quesada back in 1995, our main gun-totting heroine wouldn’t get her proper introduction to the comic-reading populace until the very next year. However, it wouldn’t be in a comic series barring her own name.
Also known as “22 Brides: Married To The Mob”, this four-issue series saw the debut of our featured female (as well as several others gun-totting ladies) with its first issue being published in March 1996. However, this comic series is actually (somewhat) based on a real indie folk music group from Zero Hour Records, since the two main heroines have the same first names as the sisters who fronted the band back in the ’90s: Carrie and Libby Johnson. So in a similar fashion to Marvel’s “Nightcat” where real-life singer Jacqueline Tavarez got her own superhero comic (albeit just a single issue), we have actual musicians being portrayed in fictional action-packed comics. As such and in a round-about way, we have the actual band to thank for Painkiller Jane’s existence. Anyway, let’s see how she makes her debut.
For the most part of the first three issues, she’s only briefly seen in the beginnings of those parts as she interrogates a mob boss named Don Joe Fonti. As such, I’ll try to summarize these comics as best as I can. In the inaugural issue, she mentions how he “made a deal with those girls” before breaking it. With her gunning down several crucial thugs from his operations, she gives him a choice to how he wants to be axed off. From there, he decides to explain how things got to this point. We then truly open at the Slimelight Nightclub in Manhattan as Libby and Carrie are let down to the main establishment by an elevator operator.
Eventually, she escorts the two ladies over to Fonti who’s working on a barbarian statute and weirdly uses their lipstick to color it. Afterwards, they’re excused before Joe asks his bodyguards about Libby, implying that he has some eventual interest in her.
As the two young women take their leave (with Libby even limbo-ing underneath a cigarette woman’s cart for some reason and the club has a guy in drag who watches the front door), they discuss how their band is being scheduled to play there, despite Fonti running the place, and that they need the money from the upcoming gig to help out their mother. As they walk back to their place, Libby tells her sister not to worry and that they’ll take care of this, while Carrie has a brief flash to something tragic from the past. Later, Libby gets literally pulled into a nearby alley by a street gang called the Pinheads who seem to have been ordered to get her, at the very least.
Suddenly, Carrie brandishes some firearms and helps her sister escape the leader’s grasp with a precise shot before Libby kicks him into his fellow thugs. From there, the Pinheads get pelted by a barrage of kunais as our main ladies are met upon by their saviors: a scantily-clad woman named Tweety and a young girl named Mercy. However, the street gang manages to recover and prepares to retaliate. Suddenly, a limo pulls up before a woman named Lulu invites our four women inside. From there, the Pinheads are threatened with a hidden compartment of guns before the females drive off.
Back at the Slimelight Nightclub, Fonti learns about his mens’ failed attempt at attacking the women while he’s using a urinal. Afterwards, he tells his bodyguards to locate the ladies’ hideout before taking his leave. Just then, the elevator operator tells the hired muscle about a guy that’s right outside the establishment and that they “called for him”. Later, they reach the man named Vincent Barbarino Testavino and demand for some useful information about “the two young ladies” within their boss’ employ. Vinnie claims to not know anything about it, but he quickly talks after being held up at gunpoint as he exclaims that Fonti has gotten himself “on the bad side of the Brides”. Meanwhile over at Stump Towers (ugh), Libby, Carrie, Tweety, Mercy and Lulu arrive as they make their way up to the private penthouse. As they prepare to unwind, Carrie tells a butler named James to inform their fellow teammate named Spyder to find out whom the Pinheads work for and that she also wants to talk to Deseo.
Following a relaxing time in the private sauna, Libby and Carrie learn from Spyder that she tracked a phone call from the Slimelight Nightclub to a bowery warehouse shortly after they initially left the establishment. From there, the Pinheads were picked up by a pair of checker cabs and dropped off within the alley in time for them to intercept our two ladies. With them realizing that the gang was working with Fonti, Spyder then informs them that the local informant named Vincent Testavino was called over to the club not long after the attempted assault in order to inform Joe about the incident. From there, Deseo comes in with a bunch of weapons and tells Carrie & Libby that they’re ready to strike back. We then have a quick scene over at a diner where a female detective is in the middle of a phone call with an inside source over at the night club. After being informed that the Don “has run afoul of the Brides”, the detective says that the famed “22 Brides” don’t even exist, yet the inside source informs her that the injured street gang say otherwise. From there, the detective says that they may wind up capturing “this mythical girl gang” in addition to Fonti. However, her inside source essentially warns her to be careful with this endeavor before hanging up. Afterwards, the elevator operator is about to return to the lift before he finds Carrie & Libby walking out of it as they arrive to perform for the patrons.
Over the next hour, they perform their set before Libby eventually makes her way into a back room She’s ultimately met upon by Joe in a creepy manner, but Carrie manages to come to her rescue and holds Fonti up at gunpoint. Unfortunately, the ladies are suddenly cornered by Joe’s bodyguards who proceeds to stick them up with their weapons. Fortunately, the rest of the Brides arrive to stick the goons up. Sadly, they’re all suddenly out gunned when the rest of Fonti’s men pop up and surround them. From there, Issue 1 ends with Joe offering to spare their lives if they agree to work for him, even sweeting the deal by helping Carrie and Libby’s mother be freed from her prison sentence.
Issue 2 ultimately begins outside of the Celestial Casino as a mob boss named Bobby The Dog arrives. However, he ultimately gets assassinated by a fellow Bride named Hardkiss. Afterwards, another Bride member named Frenchie (who carried the cigarette tray back at the Slimelight Night Club) jumps onto Manny’s back and causes him to shoot two of his fellow bodyguards before subduing him by firing at his foot. The remaining goon attempts to retaliate, but he’s ultimately taken down by a barrage of kunais, courtesy of Tweety. From there, Libby, Carrie and Dark Ali arrive onto the scene, subduing Manny before telling him to inform his fellow bosses of the looming threat that’s coming to him “courtesy of Don Joe Fonti and the 22 Brides”.
Back over at Stump Towers in Manhattan, Lulu gets chastised by her father Ronald (more eye-rolling from me) for spending far too much money, especially since she purchased a Humvee for her group’s operations. However, she sweet-talks her way out of the situation before Ronald tells Lulu’s main butlers James & Joseph to keep track of her or else as he takes his leave. Afterwards, Deseo comes and informs her that Spyder hasn’t found a way that the group can get out of their current partnership with Fonti. As such, they have to rely on their “inside source” to come up with another way for them to work. Over at the Slimelight Night Club, the drag queen doorman named Marilyn is ultimately given a break from his duty. With Fonti learning that the bodyguards have been put on a strict, high alert for his “rival” ever since the Brides’ previous infiltration of the building from over a month ago, Marilyn ultimately reaches the main club and wonders if this adversary could help our main ladies out of their situation, since Fonti is going to just string Carrie & Libby along and use them to knock off the opposing mob out in Las Vegas with the promise of helping their mother out, only to ultimately leave them in the lurch. Over in Joe’s office, he learns from a woman named Go-Go that she was forced by the Brides into double-crossing him. As such, she swears to do whatever it takes to “make it straight” with him.
Over at a motel in Henderson, Nevada, the Brides are hiding out there as Tweety, Mercy and Hardkiss return with some groceries. Suddenly, Libby accidentally opens up their room door with enough force to spill their newly-acquired food and knock Mercy over the railing, though she’s thankfully saved by Hardkiss. Dark Ali peaks out to inquire about the ruckus as the spilled, red liquid briefly triggers a traumatic moment from Libby’s past, mainly of a bloodied person at the bottom of some stairs before her mother gets placed in prison, due to aggravated assault and second-degree murder. Afterwards, Libby is snapped out by Carrie and promises her that they’ll get their mom out of jail. Libby asks her if Fonti will truly live up to the bargain, to which Carrie says that they don’t have choice at the moment.
Back over in Manhattan, the trench coat detective named Fernandez arrives at a diner before she discreetly talks with her contact. She goes on to learn that the Brides were blackmailed into working for Fonti with the promise of busting a loved one out of prison if they followed his orders. Fernandez then tells her inside source to dig further into this operation in order to find out any further details, or else their whole operation will have been for nothing. Over at an Italian Restaurant in the Little Italy district, Fonti meets up with an abnormal man named Adam. They’ve ultimately managed to reach a truce with their businesses before he takes his leave, to which Joe tells his bodyguards to rub out his newest business partner.
Back over at the Henderson-based motel, the Brides are having brunch courtesy of Dark Ali. Carrie explains that they only have one more mob boss to take out before the group is suddenly met upon by a loud rumble. It turns out a pair of military-grade helicopters have descended upon their room before they proceed to open fire. Thankfully, the Brides manage to avoid the bullet storm as Carrie tells them to split up before ultimately regrouping at the bowling alley. As she evades the opposing gunfire, Hardkiss manages to toss a grenade underneath a car where it gets blown up towards one of the enemy helicopters, taking it out in a fiery explosion. Most of them manage to slip away, but Tweety and Mercy end up getting cornered before they’re ultimately forced to surrender to the remaining copter.
Later, Carrie and Libby arrive at the bowling alley, initially believing that they were the only ones to survive the sudden attack. However, they suddenly find themselves surrounded by a group of thugs with Tweety and Mercy as their prisoners, having learned about their meet-up spot by interrogating Tweety. From there, Issue 2 ends with Adam approaching them and offering up a deal: He’ll spare their lives if they side with him and assassinate Don Joe Fonti.
Issue 3 ultimately opens with Fonti on the run, now that his blackmail scheme has blown up in his face. One of his bodyguards, Pauly, is struggling to keep up, so he’s ultimately left behind. He’s eventually confronted by Tweety and Mercy as he instantly surrenders and promises to inform them if he gets spared. From there, Mercy asks him when the hit on Carrie & Libby’s mother is going to happen and who’s the person inside the prison that’s going to carry it out.
We then shift over a luxury apartment complex called Skeyes as Carrie & Libby are now wearing voluptuous dresses at the preferable behest of their new employer Adam. It turns out that Carrie had to make this meet-up occur, since they were forced by him into siding against Fonti in this current mob war. Adam tells her that this is necessary in order for them to save the ladies’ mother from her wrongful imprisonment. More flashes from the traumatizing incident pop up within their minds before Carrie asks him what he’s going to do with them, to which Adam says that he intends on helping them with their family-based plight. Libby asks her sister what they can do at this moment, before Carrie says that they have to hope that Joe doesn’t carry out his execution of their mother and that Adam sticks to his promises. She then mentions that they still have a wild card in Hardkiss who’s still out there.
We then cut to an ironic moment where she’s been caught by Det. Fernandez and a group of police officers. After discarding her weapons, Hardkiss shares the Brides’ current situation with the officials and that in order for the imprisoned mother to be protected, she would prefer to get arrested.
Meanwhile over at Stump Towers, the captured Pauly continues to get interrogated as Lulu and Deseo are now unable to retrieve any further information from him. Thankfully, they do have someone who can squeeze some much-needed details out of him: Spyder. We then shift ahead to the next morning as James & Joseph inform Lulu that Spyder’s interrogation went pretty well. Deseo then shares a newly-retrieved detail with them, specifically where Fonti is going to get Carrie & Libby’s mother named Victoria executed and thus, convince them to go after Adam. As such, the only way they can stop this is to have someone inside the prison. Deseo then says that they have someone on that task and that Marilyn can inform them about “the real score”. Deseo then calls him up, but he tells her that “411 is DOA” and that Go-Go has fled ever since Fonti was forced to go on the run, causing them to question the loyalty of their inside agent.
Over at the Lazar Women’s Minimum Security Detention Facility in Upstate New York, Victoria is arriving at the showers when she’s suddenly approached by a pair of hit-ladies who intend to murder her in Fonti’s name. Suddenly, the lights go out as Hardkiss arrives and beats them up before informing Victoria that she’s here to bust her out. They’re then approached by a small group of female guards, but Hardkiss is able to smack them up before swiping some of their uniforms for herself and for Victoria.
Later, they manage to escape the facility as they comb through a tall-grass field in order to reach their pickup point. A car arrives as Hardkiss is surprised that Go-Go has shown up, questioning her how Fonti knew that she would be here at this moment. Go-Go says that he doesn’t before betraying Hardkiss by firing a single shot at her. Later over at Stump Towers, Joe’s bodyguard named Sean arrives and communicates with Tweety, Mercy & Deseo and demands for the release of his comrade Pauly, especially since he reveals that Victoria has been captured and her life is now in Fonti’s hands. Back over at Skeyes on Park Avenue, Adam tells our main ladies that he regrets the predicament that they and their mother have wound up in, not to mention that his original plan of turning the Brides against Fonti has gone sour. Fortunately, Carrie and Libby tell him that they can be used as something far better than leverage. From there, Issue 3 ends with them exclaiming that they can be effective weapons.
Now, we can finally get some significant movement from our featured retrospective subject. Issue 4 opens with Painkiller Jane continuing her interrogation on Fonti. Suddenly, she’s held up at gunpoint by Go-Go and helps Joe out of his predicament. We then flashback to how Jane wound up here to begin with, particularly shortly after the events of the previous issue. After meeting up with Marilyn at the Slimelight Night Club, she arrives at a diner and proceeds to share what she’s discovered thus far with Det. Fernandez: Fonti’s gone to hiding, the 22 Brides have gone missing and are presumed dead, Carrie & Libby are out somewhere searching for their comrades and their mother Victoria was busted out of jail, only to go missing herself. Fernandez criticizes her poor surveillance skills, but Jane says that she can still go after Joe, especially since he’s the crucial lynch-pin to this entire situation. When asked how she’ll able to get to him, she simply tells Fernandez that she has her own personally-known methods before taking her leave. That night over in Greenwich Village, Go-Go gets a call from Fonti and gets told to go to a specific location. During this, Jane had wire-tapped the conversation before staking out her current area. Eventually, Go-Go heads out to her destination via a taxi as Jane hops into another cab in order to tail her. One half-hour excursion on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway later, she arrives at a casket store and makes her way inside, taking out the lone thug on guard duty.
She then approaches Joe and Go-Go as Fonti realizes that the elevator operator at his night club was an undercover cop this whole time. Jane then demands for a simple reason why she shouldn’t arrest him or turn him over to Adam, to which he reveals that he’s kidnapped the Brides and that the only way that their lives will be spared is if she stop Carrie & Libby. From there, they would temporarily team up to take down Adam, especially since he’ll blackmail her into allowing him to escape the law. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the beaten-up goon has recovered and manages to hold Jane up at gunpoint, thus forcing her to carry out Fonti’s scheme. Later, she arrives at Adam’s apartment. As soon as he opens up the door, Joe unleashes his plan as it turns out that he used Jane as his personal suicide bomber. Thanks to his otherworldly nature, Adam survives the blast before taking Jane’s mortally-wounded body with the intent of saving her life.
Over in Upstate New York, Hardkiss is still holding on as she slowly crawls her way to her ultimate goal: getting back at Go-Go for betraying her and the Brides. Meanwhile at the Mawner Cawner Store within Times Square, Libby kicks off the big rescue operation, starting with Tweety. As they proceed to regroup, Carrie calls up Marilyn and learns that he’ll fax the rest of the Brides’ current locations to their car. From there, the ladies proceed to save their teammates before they conclude with the rescue of Victoria, leading to a heartfelt reunion with her and her daughters. With the entire gang reunited (apparently Hardkiss managed to heal up and rejoin them at some point in all of this), they prepare to make their final stand against Fonti. Over at an abandoned subway station on Bleeker Street, Jane emerges from a healing pod as she’s shocked to find herself alive, as well as her discovery of the highly-advanced technology that saved her. Either way, she intends on getting some much-deserved vengeance against Fonti.
Over at the Slimelight Night Club, Joe and Sean arrive back as Marilyn informs them that Pauly has been interrogating the lone Bride who hasn’t been rescued: Spyder. Unfortunately for him, he hasn’t been able to get any vital pieces of information out of her. Meanwhile, Fonti has Go-Go running an errand for him. As Marilyn discreetly tells Spyder that this whole ordeal will end soon, Joe says that a disc within a small statue will help him avoid any jail time. Suddenly, Painkiller Jane arrives as she shoots up the sound system in order to get Fonti’s attention. With her sights set on him, she manages to take down Sean & Pauly before she engages the rest of the bodyguards in a fierce shootout. Fonti then soon discovers Marilyn helping the tortured Spyder before shooting him in the back for his betrayal. He then rushes to get the key disc in order to escape, but he’s suddenly approached by Painkiller Jane.
One lengthy interrogation later, we shift back to the present as she’s current in Go-Go’s crosshairs. Suddenly, the side-switching lady then says that she can’t trust him anymore. Jane then tells her that Joe has a computer disc in his office that contains the necessary details that can help keep her safe from him. After acquiring it, Go-Go discovers the wounded Marilyn and gets informed to hand it over to Carrie & Libby in order to reveal Fonti’s blackmail scheme to the cops. Just as Go-Go exclaims that the Brides won’t take her back after betraying them, Sean and Pauly manage to recover just enough in order to shoot her. This distracts Jane long enough for Joe to take out a hidden gun from his sleeve and shoot her in the head.
Just as he’s about to leave his wounded bodyguards behind, he’s suddenly approached by the Brides. Just as they’re about to gun him down, Painkiller Jane (despite all of her bullet wounds) stops them as she wearily tells them that killing him isn’t worth ruining their lives over. She then gives Libby the computer disc before telling her that she’ll deal with Fonti. After the Brides take their leave, she then prepares to execute Joe. Unfortunately, they discover that she’s out of bullets shortly before Det. Fernandez arrives with a bunch of officers. After her former partner recognizes her admits the bandage wrappings, a smoke grenade flies in and allows Jane to escape, though she thankfully leaves Fonti to his imprisoning fate.
Shortly afterwards, it’s revealed that Hardkiss helped her out. Later on at Stump Towers, the Brides are relaxing following their victorious moment. As Carrie & Libby share another comforting hug with their reunited mother, the series ends with Hardkiss telling Dark Ali that she’s still miffed with Go-Go turning on them. However, she wonders if it’s good or bad that they now have a “Guardian Angel From Hell” looking out for them as Painkiller Jane looks over the city from the rooftops.
Before we finally get to her first go-around in the solo series corral, let’s get to a few more comics from this particular publishing company. Even though Painkiller Jane does appear within the pages of a two-issue mini-series called “Ash/22 Brides”, she’s not as essential here as she was in the previous series. As such, I’ll do a brief plot summary for this part. Essentially, there’s a small statue that our familiar group of females have managed to swipe from an international art smuggler’s collection and have returned to the Guggenhaus Museum. Eventually, they’re approached by a group of demonic-looking vampires as their leader claims that it “belongs to the Sedahcia Sect”. During the commotion, the statue falls and shatters, unveiling a specific access card called the Tomorrow Key (or Infinity Access, both names are used). Not to mention, the Brides gets some help from a superpowered fireman named Ashley Quinn a.k.a. Ash, who crosses paths with them after the dealer’s apartment was destroyed through arson. They’re ultimately met by Sir Humbert Whitney, who’s standing before them despite having previously discovered a series of stasis chambers beneath the surface of the Melanesian Islands back in 1856. Having been turned into a vampire by the Sedahcia Sect, he tells them that the newly-acquired access card must be safeguarded before a horde of the opposing group’s dinosaurs (which are able to talk, by the way) burst in and eat him. After fighting them off, the group makes their way back to the smuggler’s toasted apartment for answers. As they head inside, Carrie reminds her sister that they lost their commission due to the statue getting destroyed. As such, they might as well go back to where this whole venture started, especially since the former tenant stole the monkey statue from a Sri Lanka-based museum. Even though they were hired by the Guggenhaus owners to get it back for them, they’re not fully aware of its whole history. As such, she hopes that they can learn about the statue’s origin in order to get to the answers they need. Just then, they’re met upon by the dealer himself named Hunter Bounty. After our main group acquire the much-needed information from him, they form a plan before Lulu provides them with one of her father’s helicopters. Ten hours later, they arrive at a castle in Sri Lanka. Hunter explains that it was brought over brick-by-brick near the end of the 19th Century, to which Dark Ali also mentions that its former occupants, the Whitney Family, left England after Sir Whitney Humbert went missing during his overseas excursion. As they head inside, they’re suddenly met upon by a swarm of ghosts. They soon discover that it’s the spirits of Sir Humbert and his family. As things settle down, Whitney explains that after his Oceania-based excursion, he took his home & his family and fled the country in order to evade the Sedahcia Sect, especially since those vampires were among the terrible beings that he accidentally released from their stasis chambers. They attacked him and he wound up becoming a vampire, but he managed to evade their intent to kill him. Upon his return home within England however, he became consumed by his bloodlust and ended up turning his sister Emily into a vampire herself. From there, they attacked their remaining family and consumed their blood before they fled the country altogether. Thankfully, he’s able to help our main group reach the catacombs in order for the vampiric sect to be stopped once and for all. Seventeen hours later, they arrive at the temple within the Melanesian Islands as Ash uses his fire-based powers to open the main gate for himself and his teammates. After making some significant progress within the main chamber, they’re suddenly met upon by several vampires. Despite being surrounded, Ash and the Brides manage to fight them off before their brawl carries over into the main technological hub. They discover a small group of fluently-speaking dinosaurs who say that they’ve been trying to keep themselves away from humankind for several millennia. Ash tells them that he’s been seeing several images within his mind and that he was hoping to learn the truth about them, specifically “things from the future” that could potentially affect his past. The leading T-Rex then proceeds to explain how millions of years ago, the various dino bodies that they inhabit were used as hosts by their alien race, since they needed to take “sturdier physical forms” in order to survive. They wound up stranded on Earth and thus, needed the stasis chambers in order to preserve their “immortal consciousness” by preventing their host bodies from withering. As they endlessly waited for their rescue, they would only leave their pods in order to occasionally check on humanity’s progress. When Libby asks them about the rise of the vampiric sect, the T-Rex says that it was “a misguided effort” for them to discover some deterrents. Carrie then asks about the access card (or “green diskette” as she says here), to which another dinosaur explains that each one of those contains a portion of their collected knowledge that their race has gathered over several millions years of universal space travel. When Humbert escaped from them over a century ago, he swiped a statue that just so happened to have one of their disks within it. Sir Whitney confesses that he stole it in order to get some money, before Bounty also admits to swiping the statue from him for some cash as well. Ash then apologizes to them for everything that’s happened and that they deserve their privacy. With the disc back in the dinos’ possession (as well as their treasure that some of the Brides tried to swipe for themselves), our main group proceed to fly back home as Ash calls out some of the ladies for their attempted pilfering of the alien dinosaurs. He then says that even though he didn’t get to learn about his past, he’s still satisfied how there’s no more dinosaurs or vampires running loose.
From there, the comic ends with a guy getting attacked by a female vampire. Suddenly, she gets shot and killed by Painkiller Jane who’s stunned about slaying a creature of the night. She also discovers a dinosaur egg that her victim has swiped before taking it for herself as she takes her leave.
Before we finally get to the first of her solo adventures, I should also mention the brief appearance that she makes within a single comic called “The Ash Files”, released in March 1997. The table of contents on the inside cover does list off several people within Ash’s world, including the aforementioned 22 Brides and the villainous Don Joe Fonti. Painkiller Jane is also listed here, but the comic says that she technically debuted in Ash #3 in a cameo capacity before properly debuting 22 Brides #1. By the way, I checked all throughout a scanned copy online and although the featured group of female gunners (specifically Cassie, Libby & Tweety) are present here (and are even listed in this comic as their first appearance), Jane herself was nowhere to be found in that book. Either way, let’s get to her profile page. Within this particular comic, it only gives her a “real name” of Jane Doe (not knowing what her real last name is, at this point in time) and says that she’s somewhat invulnerable, even though she’s still able to be “shot, stabbed, wounded, etc.” & even though she’s still able to feel the pain from those hits, the wounds won’t leave any lasting injury. As for her history, she was brought in to the Witness Protection Program by Det. Maureen Fernandez, who happens to be Ash’s widowed sister. With no immediate friends or family of her own, Jane became a covert agent and was placed under cover as an elevator operator over at Fonti’s night club. During her assignment, she became aware of the 22 Brides and formed a bond with Mercy. Eventually, she was caught by Fonti and used as his personal suicide bomber against Adam (described as an “indestructible alien” here) in order to help spare the Brides’ lives. He revives her with his “alien powers”, confronts Fonti, frees the Brides from his grasp and became a vigilante in her own right. With all of that out of the way, let’s finally get to her first solo series.
Painkiller Jane’s first go-around with a solo series lasted from June to October 1997, with Issue #0 eventually getting a release in January 1999. For the original five-issue run, Mark Waid & Brian Augustyn shared writing duties, Rick Leonardi handled penciling duties, while Jimmy Palmiotti took care of the ink. As for the eventual prelude issue, Augustyn handled the script while Palmiotti was in charge of inking duties, even sharing the story credit with Joe Quesada. As for the main pencil work, that would fall under the responsibility of Amanda Conner. So with all of the “Event”-ful build-up out of the way, let’s finally tackle our main character’s inaugural time away from other related characters.
Issue Zero opens at the Manhattan-based Club Noir as a young couple named Cliff and Lindy arrive on the scene, even being allowed inside ahead of those who’ve been waiting in line. Unbeknownst to them, Painkiller Jane is working undercover as one of the exotic dancers. Her assignment sees her looking out for club owner Neal Garner who’s being pressured by a devious merchant who wants to set up his drug dealings within the club’s back room. Meanwhile, Cliff and Lindy are at their table talking about their potential future together, since they’re going to get married in two weeks. Just then, a particular drug lord named Javi Lagarto arrives on the scene as Jane contacts 22 Brides about this turn of events and tells them to stay alert. Neal approaches him and orders him to leave, but Javi refuses as he takes out a grenade and demands for some “respect and some wiggle room”. Just as Jane tells the Brides to move in before she jumps down from the hanging cage to intervene, Cliff notices the grenade and decides to spring into action as he grabs Javi’s arm. Unfortunately, Lagarto’s men gun him down.
By the time that Jane manages to work her way through the packed dancing crowd, Neal retaliates by shooting Javi, thus dropping the live grenade. With the explosive landing next to Cliff’s corpse while Lindy mourns the loss of her potential husband, Jane tells the crowd to evacuate before diving onto Lindy. Unfortunately, they were still within blast range as Painkiller Jane is forced to shield the young woman as the grenade blows up, causing the whole club to crumble.
Despite some severe injuries, she manages to survive the whole ordeal. Unfortunately, Lindy gets pinned underneath some rubble. Jane tries to pull her out, but she screams in pain. Jane goes to investigate, only to discover that Lindy was impaled on some rebar. Jane then proceeds to comfort her by telling her that a fire-rescue crew will be arriving, even while she knows that Lindy won’t survive this. Jane says that she wishes that she could ease her pain, to which Lindy asks her if she’s been “hurt a lot”. From there, Jane decides to share her backstory with her.
We then flashback to a younger and far-more optimistic Jane Vasko who’s just graduated from the New York Police Academy, alongside her best friend Maureen Quinn. While her parents, Karl & Maria, and her boyfriend Mark Willofsky in attendance to celebrate this momentous occasion, a pair of agents are overlooking Vasko & Quinn’s files as they have some keen interest in them. Sometime later, Jane is on assignment before the scene becomes serious as a crack-house bust turns into a hostage situation, due to a thug having kidnapped a little girl. Fearing that the negotiator won’t be able to arrive in time, Vasko decides to take matters into her own hands as she sneaks her way up an adjacent fire escape before smashing through a window, shooting at the thug named Larnell and thankfully managing to just wound him in the knee. She manages to handcuff him before the rest of his goons arrive, forcing her to take cover with the young girl. She then manages to shoot the three thugs before emerging from the building with the girl and Larnell. Jane would get rewarded with the Medal of Honor before she’s met upon by the two agents and gets offered to help fight “a more effective war against drugs”.
Later, she and her newly-married friend Maureen Fernandez have been brought into this operation. They’re informed that the DEA has been tracking the rise of a new and deadly set of designer drugs being sold throughout the city, especially since it gives its users “heavenly highs” before messing them up on a “chromosomal level”. As such, they need to place an undercover agent within the supplier’s organization, which is run by Reynaldo and Angel Blanco within a “high-class dive” called the Whip-Shack. Maureen then asks why she and Jane are needed for this gig, to which the two agents clumsily explain that the Blancos are into red-heads. Eventually, Jane and Maureen are dressed up as they arrive at the Whip-Shack. Ultimately, they get the Blanco brothers’ attention and get brought into their group. Eventually, they find themselves in a limousine being forced to kiss the two fiends, despite their own marital statuses. After four-and-a-half months into their undercover assignment, Maureen ends up blowing her cover when the gang sees a newscast talking about her husband named Raymond getting severely wounded from a recent shootout and in critical condition over at Spicer Memorial Hospital. Despite only being in her underwear, she grabs a coat and runs off to the hospital. While there, the agents call her out for ditching her partner. Meanwhile, Jane has been caught by the Blanco brothers’ thugs as Angel decides to give her a new drug called “The Bomb”, despite his associate warning him that the batch hasn’t been perfected yet.
However, Vasko gets injected and ends up falling into a comatose state. Later, she’s found naked and in an alley by her friend Maureen who ultimately gets her to a hospital. With her parents overseeing her unconscious body, Dr. Seth Hiller tells them that their daughter is in a coma due to an “unknown toxic substance”. Back in the present, Lindy says that it’s miraculous that she survived, to which Jane explains that she became “something else” that day since the chemicals within the drug cocktail has transformed her metabolism and ultimately gave her a healing factor that makes her nearly impossible to slay. We then shift back into the flashback where it turns out that Jane was in her coma for two years and the only people who continued to visit after such a long time were Maureen and Dr. Hiller. On one fateful Halloween, they arrive at her room to discover that she’s gone as they scramble to find out what happened to her. Meanwhile, Jane is stumbling through a neighborhood as trick-or-treaters believe that she’s dressed up as a mummy. Sadly, she learns that her boyfriend got married and moved away last year before discovering that her parents had moved out of their home. Back at the hospital, Maureen was able to discover that Jane had escaped under her own power. Seth says that a Jane Doe corpse looks similar enough and they can use that as a faux-Vasko that can be buried alongside her parents and keep Fernandez’ friend safe.
Later on after the news of her “death” got out, Jane meets up with Maureen over at her grave site two days after the Jane Doe corpse was buried. After learning that her friend’s husband didn’t survive his fatal wound, Jane tells Maureen that she has only one thing on her mind: Payback. From there, she goes through some intense physical conditioning in order to build up her muscles after being in a two-year coma. As she physically hits a punching bag hard enough to snap its supporting chains, her arm gets cut by a snapped chain. However, the bloodied gash vanished as Maureen witnesses her friend’s Healing Factor. From there, Jane decides that she’s ready to embark on her vengeance quest.
Later, she arrives at the Whip-Shack after hearing that the Blanco brothers had returned to their old hideout. As such, she jumps through a window and confronts the two thugs. Angel discreetly summons his bodyguards via a floor button, but Painkiller Jane is able to gun them down. Reynaldo manages to shoot her in the stomach, due to him claiming to be “a lousy shot”, before getting up close to finish her off. Thankfully, her Healing Factor kicks in before she shoots him in the head. Before she departs for the hospital, she warns Angel to discontinue his drug-based business, or else she’ll return to finish him off. As such, she shoots him in the knee before taking her leave.
From there, her vigilante venture saw her crossing paths with the 22 Brides while Maureen serves as her contact and Seth provides some medical help. As we shift back to the present, Jane says things have drastically changed for her since she’s lost everything that she deeply cared about and even feels that there’s no more room within her life for another shot at a meaningful relationship. She even feels like her life as become one big “cosmic joke”, since she has no reason for living, yet has seemingly no way to end her own life. Shifting back into the present, she tells the mortally-wounded Lindy that she’s since been using her abilities in order to help others, especially since it helps fill an “emptiness”. With her dying words, Lindy tells her that coming back from the brink and helping others feels like a good reason to keep striving. Shortly after telling Jane that maybe this is why she was brought back from the dead, Lindy succumbs to her injury. Vasko then narrates how she didn’t want to listen to the young lady’s words, nor think of her life as a burden. After surviving yet another harrowing ordeal, she wonders if someone is truly looking out for her and thinks that avenging people like Lindy is the main reason why she survived. Just then, a fire-rescue crew finally arrives as Jane finally receives some medical attention. Maureen then approaches her in order to learn about how this situation went down. After realizing that Javi worked with the Blanco brothers, Fernandez asks if the remaining drug-producing sibling has long since left town as Vasko doesn’t believe so, though she promises to take him down if he’s truly behind this incident while both of them are unaware of Reynaldo discreetly seeing them from a nearby alley. From there, the issue ends with Jane declining a car ride from Maureen before saying that she’ll heal from her wounds, yet she’ll always feel the lingering pain.
The main series itself begins at Don Joe Fonti’s mansion where a birthday party is being held for his daughter named Angela. The festivities include several carnival-related attractions and even some entertainment from a hired clown named Binky. Unbeknownst to the guests however, the actually-hired clown has been murdered and his corpse in barely hiding within his van. As such, the disguised thugs spring into action and kidnap Angela, telling Fonti’s men to stand down. Joe tells his men to comply, but one bodyguard decides to take matters into his own hands. However, he gets gunned down before the head goon named Deke tells Fonti that they’ll keep in touch before taking Angela into the van with his henchmen and driving off.
Later on within the unused wing of Spicer Memorial Hospital, Jane is resting up and healing her gun wounds while her narration talks about her past history with Joe. Suddenly, she hears someone approaching her room as she manages to hide in time. Just then, Fonti’s men make their way in and are unable to find her. Unbeknownst to them, she’s hiding underneath her bed as she uses her legs to force it onto them before lunging at them to attack. Paulie accidentally shoots her through a window before getting scolded by his comrade, since their boss needs her help.
They check outside for the aftermath, but they only discover some shattered glass and a small pool of her blood. However, this distraction allowed Jane to recover and return to her room. After beating up most of Joe’s bodyguards, she interrogates the remaining guy who tells her that Fonti wants her help in rescuing his baby girl. Ultimately, she settles down and agrees to hear him out. After introducing himself as Joe’s right-hand man named Tom Mackey, he explains that three days ago, Angela was kidnapped during his sixth birthday party and is being held for a $1 million ransom. With the payment required to be carried out by 10pm this evening, Tom says that the goons are hiding out in a former Civil War prison located on Garrison Island over within Hudson Bay. With its surrounding area completely open, there’s no way to approach it without being seen. As such, Fonti wants her to make the drop and find a way inside. Tom then says that the ransom money and a speedboat will be waiting for here at 9pm over at the Battery Park docks. After agreeing to this assignment, Jane tells him and his men to clear out so that she can prepare. Later, she calls up Maureen and asks her to meet at their “regular place” in twenty minutes and to also find any vital information about Joe’s daughter Angela, since she’s been kidnapped. As she passes a bus stop, an elderly man brushes past a woman before he suddenly gets a vision of her death in a car accident and utters “Not Again”.
Eventually, Vasko and Fernandez meet up at the Pegasus Café, though in adjacent booths while communicating through their cell phones. After Maureen says that the police has hardly any about Fonti’s kid, Jane informs her about the assignment that she’s currently on. Fernandez then asks why they can’t just share details with each other in a regular sit-down, face-to-face format, to which Vasko says that it’s for her protection. Despite being reminded of what Joe did to her in the past, she says that Angela herself is the main reason why she agreed to rescue her. After informing her longtime friend that she’s required to drop off the ransom money over by Garrison’s Island at 10pm, Jane asks Maureen if she knows who’s behind this kidnapping plot. Fernandez in unsure at this moment, but assumes that the fiend would greatly benefit from the pay-off at the severe risk to the kid’s life. Just then, she gets a call about a murder victim and has to head out. As such, she tells Vasko to be careful. Later on, Jane takes her leave as she narrates if this whole thing is an elaborate plan from Fonti to get back at both her and the 22 Brides.
Suddenly, she’s approached by one of the clown kidnappers who manages to ram her with the van before swerving back around. With her right shoulder getting dislocated from the hit, she manages to grab her gun and fire at the opposing driver before rolling away from his second smash attempt. With the fiend dealt with, he makes her way over to Dr. Seth Hiller and helps her pop her shoulder back into place. She then turns down his offer for a strong medicine to help her deal with her major soreness, saying that she only takes aspirin and that she also has her Healing Factor, which she sees as both a blessing and a curse. After thanking him for providing her with own base within the unused hospital room and also for his “unending supply of bandages”, she ultimately arrives at the Battery Park commercial docks.
Joe then tells her that after this task, he promises to never bother her ever again. As she gets shown to her speedboat, one of Fonti’s men provides her with the ransom money that’s in an inflatable bag. He then explains that the thugs want them to deposit it within a buoy and return, especially since there’re mines hiding below the water should anyone decide to venture past it. Joe says that she has to find a way onto the island, save his girl and defeat the “psycho scum”, to which Vasko says that she help out “however necessary”. From there, she heads out towards the drop-off point, all-the-while pondering how she’s going to reach the island in one piece. Fifteen minutes later, she arrives at the buoy while Deke and his thugs oversee it from afar. Ultimately, Jane decides to take a chance and begins to speed towards the island. As expected, the speedboat hits one of the mines and blows up, throwing her from the craft.
While Deke tells his men to call Fonti up and raise the ransom to $1.5 million, Joe stands shocked from the high-seas explosion. Back on the mainland, Maureen and a group look over the murder victim, who turns out to be the familiar bus passenger while the same spectacled man looks over the scene from afar. Suddenly, Issue 1 ends with an officer informing Det. Fernandez about explosion over towards Garrison Island.
Issue 2 opens with Painkiller Jane holding onto the flotation bag while being sent flying from the detonation of the sea mine. She ultimately lands onto the island, though she does slam into a small roof port before violently falling onto some concreate stairs where her body ultimately comes to a bloodied and mangled stop, as she lies with broken ribs, a shattered knee cap and her right shoulder getting dislocated again. Thankfully, her Healing Factor would slowly help her recover from those grave injuries and that she also had some necessary downtime to do so, since the thugs automatically assume that she’s dead.
Back on the docks, Joe is initially worried. However, Tom does remind him of whom the kidnappers are ultimately up against. While Fonti does take some solace in that, he still tells Mackey to assemble their own armada just in case. As Deke prepares to beat Angela up and while Jane continues with her own kind of recovery, we shift over to Maureen as she contacts headquarters in order to learn about the explosion over within Hudson Bay. Afterwards, she tells her fellow officers that she wants this crime scene as well as a similar situation towards a past victim checked over to see if there related, especially since the corpses “all laid out pretty and neat”. As the spectacled man looks over the scene, another woman walks past him before gets another vision, seeing her die from a vicious assault as tearfully knows what he must do.
Back at Garrison Island, Painkiller Jane has made enough of a recovery as she makes her way towards the main building. She then checks a nearby storage unit for anything that can help her, but she uncovers a series of C-4 explosives with a detonation timer to boot. With only twenty minutes to work with before it goes off, she proceeds to head inside. Meanwhile, Deke talks with his fellow thugs about Fonti will be forced to pay their newly-increased ransom, no matter what. He then tells them that once their inside man contacts them with the exact amount of money that Fonti owns, then they can share their newly-imposed ransom. Only this time, they’ll get the drop on him. From there, one of the goons named Milty decides to walk around in order to stave off the boredom of waiting. Suddenly, Painkiller Jane drops down and takes him out with a swift kick.
Upon hearing the distant noise, Deke tells another goon named Chuck to investigate before he ultimately comes across his mutilated body. After gunning him down, Jane proceeds to engage the remaining henchmen in a gunfight. She then reaches Angela and comforts her with the knowledge that her father sent her here to get her out. Shortly after freeing her, the young girl reacts to the final batch of thugs that’re approaching them. Jane manages to take one out with a knife before shooting her way out.
After reaching the port, Angela gets placed upon an adjacent boat as Vasko struggles to push the craft out to sea, due to the soreness throbbing throughout her right arm. Suddenly, she gets shot by Deke before realizing that the explosives are mere seconds away from exploding. As Deke’s right-hand man gets his bazooka prepared in order to destroy Angela and the boat, Jane causes a distraction by with some gunfire. Deke then shoots her into the water as she feigns her demise before making it onto the boat while they’re not looking. After they finally notice, they open fire on the boat as Vasko and Angela are forced to take cover. Just then, the C-4s are detonated as Deke and his right-hand fiend are engulfed by the roaring explosion as our main ladies begin to drift out to safety.
Back in the city, the spectacled man catches up to the woman from the crime scene and says that she’s sparing her from a “dreadful doom” from her very near future. As such, he injects her with a fast-acting and painless, yet toxic serum as it quickly takes her life. Afterwards he calmly places her on the ground before he says that he’ll “take care of everything” and tearfully claims that it’s his “sacred duty”. Later, Angela gets reunited with her father back at his midtown headquarters and tells Jane that he owes her a big favor. Vasko then says that she can inform him about the person who hired the thuggish clowns to kidnap Angela. After excusing his daughter, Fonti then asks her who was behind this whole scheme. Jane then tells him that it was his right-hand man himself, Tom Mackey.
She goes on to explain that the kidnappers tried to run her down with the clown van shortly after she accepted the job. No one else but Tom would’ve known about that in such a short time and the other henchman, Sean & Pauly, aren’t smart enough to come up with this scheme or even set up the explosives upon the island in order to cover up their tracks. Tom objects to this accusation before Jane learns that Joe doesn’t “move drugs” within his operations. She then says that Mackey would’ve required his boss to get distracted in order to move the new “high-end heroin” in order to finance his own usurpation of power over Fonti. Tom does admit to some movement within the drug business, but he wouldn’t want any harm upon Angela and that Vasko shouldn’t be able to coerce Joe into taking her word. During the whole argument, Jane has been taking some rope off of the curtains and ties one end to a desk. From there, she grabs Mackey and throws him through a window and wraps a rope around his ankle. Fonti then forces him to confess, to which he admits his attempt to move some drugs in order to save the whole operation. Furious with the fact that his daughter was sold out and nearly mutilated by the murderous clowns, Joe wants Jane to cut the rope and let his former aide fall to his death. However, she leaves that option to Fonti with a knife that she sticks onto his desk before taking her leave. After offering one final bit of comfort to Angela, he heads out as Issue 2 ends with her narration saying how she wishes that she be like the kid, in that she actually has an actual future. As for what Joe ultimately decides to do with Tom, that’s left ambiguous as she mentions that she may have heard a scream.
Issue 3 begins within the stairways of Spicer Memorial Hospital as an aide has been assigned with carrying boxes of important files down to a proper storage room. In the opening narration, it mentions how a “Mercy Killer” has been stalking New York City over the past several weeks. However, the citizens hasn’t felt overly terrorized by all of this. Afterwards, the spectacled man brushes past the box-carrying worker before getting a flash of the guy’s bloodied death. As such, he takes a lethal serum and injects it into the worker, taking the guy’s life and places him in a peacefully resting position. From there, he properly enters the hospital as it’s revealed that he works at the facility and that his name is Dr. David Sheridan.
Meanwhile, Painkiller Jane is in the middle of a hectic situation as she hangs off the side of a double-decker tour bus that’s been pilfered by a group of diamond thieves. Not only that, but three members of the 22 Brides are also on the bus and have been taken hostage, specifically Hardkiss, Dark Ali and Mercy. However, they’re just casually talking about their situation, especially with Dark Ali chastising the thugs for robbing a jewelry store that’s under their protection and for also stealing a giant bus as their getaway vehicle. One of the goons does admit that they screwed up, but he also says that they weren’t counting on coming across actual Bride members. Mercy then says that while they and the rest of group are bad enough for them, but Painkiller Jane was helping them out and that they’re in big trouble if she’s on board. After the main thugs falsely assume that Vasko has been shaken off, she proceeds to hop onto the upper deck as the goons attempt to shoot her, with some shots missing and a few managing to graze her. Jane then warns them that they’re approaching the Park Avenue Overpass and that the bus’ clearance is too tall for them to go under. The fiends don’t believe her, but get proven wrong too late as the bridge begins to scrape the roof off. Jane manages to evade this using the railing to leap onto the bridge before running to the other side and jump down, where she ultimately crashes through the windshield in order to take the goon at the wheel.
Vasko then tells the thugs that she’s done with them and that this is her last favor for the Brides. With no one driving the bus, Mercy manages to reach the emergency brake as the sudden stop sends the goons flying through the windshield as the bus crashes into a clothing store. As the Brides get to their feet and Mercy takes out the last thug on the bus, Jane suddenly feels woozy before falling over. They then rush her over to Spicer Memorial as Dr. Seth Hiller explains that a big shard of glass has pierced Vasko’s chest and that he may have fatally cut her aorta. As such, the Brides are forced to wait while Jane is in surgery. Hardkiss is unable to contact the rest of the group, so Dark Ali tells Mercy to go to Eisenman’s and inform their fellow mercenaries about what’s gone down. Shortly afterwards, they’re met upon by Sean & Pauly, since they’re also heard about what happened to Jane. As Dark Ali and Hardkiss point their guns at them, Sean & Pauly assures them that Fonti is now on good terms with Vasko, due to her saving his daughter. As such, they’re also here to make sure that nothing bad happens to her. Dark Ali says that she and Hardkiss don’t want their help, but Steve & Pauly tells them that the jewel thieves that they defeated were hired by a vicious employ named Frank Largo and that he now has his murderous sights set towards Jane. As such, Dark Ali and Hardkiss allows them to stay, as long as they follow their lead.
Meanwhile, Dr. Sheridan gets comfortingly welcomed back to the facility by Dr. Kohl. During their conversation, it’s revealed that David had a brain tumor removed ten months prior. During said time, he tells Kohl that he got some insight on suffering while he was a patient. As they reach the Oncology wing, Sheridan gets led to a current cancer victim named Mr. Gannon before being left to care for him. After touching his arm, David gets a vision of the patient’s death before he personally regrets being here. As he exits the room, he bumps into a nurse and gets a flashing image of her lying in a pool of her blood. Sheridan tries to get her attention, but she doesn’t comply since she’s busy with her job. Shortly afterwards, she oversees her fellow orderly getting hassled by a guy demanding to see “the broad with the bandages”. She tells the man to leave her ward alone, or else she’ll “have to get tough”. However, she winds up meeting her prophesized fate as a goon named Nells shoots her before the group continues with their search.
Meanwhile, Jane wakes up as she’s swept up by a wave of physical pain. Seth tells her that she had a large glass shard impaled within her and came close to killing her after nicking her aorta. Thankfully, her Healing Factor had kicked in by the time she went into surgery. However, she’s not entirely thankfully, since she spends a good amount of time “hurting like the devil”. He does offer to find a cure to her immortality, but he’s aware that she’s “far too busy being tough” in order for anyone to care about her. Even still, he still wants her to rest up due to the severity of her injury, since he’s still his doctor and he’ll make sure that she gets the proper medical care that she needs. Meanwhile, Maureen arrives to hear about Vasko’s status. Dark Ali informs her that Jane’s out of surgery, though her health is a bit dicey. Fernandez assures her that Vasko’s Healing Factor will help her pull through before Hardkiss tells her that they haven’t heard back from their fellow Brides, despite sending Mercy out to get them. Just then, Steve & Pauly let the ladies know that Largo and his henchmen have arrived in order to finish their friend off. Maureen says that she’ll handle this on her own while someone else contacts the police, but Hardkiss, Dark Ali, Steve and Pauly assure her that they’re all the backup she needs.