C-Cubed Comic Book Review: “Painkiller Jane: Heartbreaker”

Hello, my friends.  It’s been a while, but I’m back to give my thoughts upon a singular comic book storyline.  Just like last time, I’ve got some unfinished business to take care of.  Back in November 2021, I made a three-part retrospective covering the independently-made character known as “Painkiller Jane”.  Throughout the various adventures that a handful of publishers have covered during her first quarter-century of existence, she’s joined forces with a vigilante group of young women known as the 22 Brides a couple of times, opposed & then made peace with a crime boss named Don Joe Fonti, confronted a mournful doctor who had to kill people just because he predicted far-more gruesome deaths from them, usurped an underground king, teamed up with various comic book characters in several one-shot stories, tangled with a disturbing family of human traffickers, developed her romantic feelings for someone from the same sex while helping that same female assassin gets some justice as they confronted a dangerous gun trafficking ring, get pushed to her physical limit against a familiar time-displaced robotic fiend from a war-torn future, have a short tale where she stopped an elementary school hold-up while also dealing with a reporter who chastises her crime-fighting methods, protected a young Saudi princess from the hired hitmen of a jealous sibling’s wrath, explored the origin of her friendship with a fellow detective friend, got to the bottom of a bombing scheme that was tied to a close ally, dealt with a complicated kidnapping & blackmail scheme and even teamed up with a golem in order to stop another human trafficking operation.  This time around, we have another singular tale to tell that will take our main anti-heroine overseas for a merciless mission.

Published in November 2021, “Painkiller Jane: Heartbreaker” was the character’s second Paperfilms-based book to be crowdfunded by Kickstarter.  Requiring $35,000 in order to properly fund the project, the campaign ultimately managed to acquire $79,283.  As for the main team who worked on this tale, writer and character co-creator Jimmy Palmiotti handled the main story.  Joining him on this venture was Romina Moranelli on artwork and John J. Hill on both lettering & design.  So, what harrowing ordeal will Lady Jane find herself in this time around?  Let’s load up, take aim and find out.

We open in New York City as Jane Vasko is walking around while narrating about her “love-hate relationship” with this metropolis, specifically by recapping her origin.  As they grew up, she and her best friend named Maureen Fernandez believed that they would be able to make a difference as cops.  Then on one fateful event, they ended up within an undercover assignment.  Unfortunately for them, their covers would end up getting blown.  While Maureen managed to escape, Jane wasn’t as lucky as she was caught and injected with an unknown drug combination that’s supposed to kill her.  After the goons dumped her body back at her police station as their means of sending a message, Vasko would ultimately fall into a coma for several years.  As such, her family and the entire outside world were informed that she was dead.  Eventually, she would break out of her coma and discover that the drug mixture that she was injected with somehow gave her a Healing Factor.  After regaining her muscle weight, she would go on to get bloody vengeance on those perps.  With so much of the world having changed while she was in a coma, especially with Maureen having become a detective, Jane realized that she could never return to her old life as a cop, especially since it was too restrictive for her.  As such, she became an off-the-grid agent for Fernandez in order to deal with situations that her friend is prohibited from.  We then transition to a blood-covered Vasko as we discover that she’s been telling all of this to a perp named Marcus who’s hiding within a lush greenhouse.  She then orders him to come out in order to avoid a slow-and-painful death, before she’s approached by a young couple who were actually having sex within the brushes as she tells them to leave.  Marcus refuses to comply since she’ll kill him no matter what he does, to which she lists off his recent rap sheet, consisting of murdering a mother of two, killing an investigator and shooting a rookie cop.  On top of all of that, he even tried to rub Jane out as well.  With her having just slayed his henchmen, Vasko assures him that she’ll kill him nice and slow.  Suddenly, a police figure shows up as she realizes that Marcus tried to call the cops in order for them to save him.  Thankfully, it only turns out to be Maureen who gets informed of the lone perp that’s remaining for them.  Det. Fernandez then casually takes Jane’s sandwich & drink order before telling her friend to get their foe out and make it possibly hurt for him.  As Maureen places the order, Vasko ultimately defeats Marcus and drags his body outside in order to place him in her friend’s car’s trunk.

Later, they’re enjoying their food along the riverside while Vasko’s narration expands on her role as Det. Fernandez’ off-the-books agent, specifically her effort to not draw attention with her “over the line” actions.  Not to mention, she knows that the police is aware of her existence and of “the services” that she gives them, even if they refuse to acknowledge it.  During their eating session, Jane is looking over a file that her friend has given her, but she hasn’t bothered to read it.  Maureen then tells her that it has to do with an assignment that she’ll be presented with and that it’s “half vacation, half work”.  From there, she explains how a few weeks ago, a woman over in Bay Ridge was tragically incinerated by a house fire.  However, it turns out that she was actually murdered and that the three bullet wounds were supposed to be covered up by the blaze.  During the same night, there was another fire that was dealt with.  Unfortunately, another thirty-something woman was massacred via an acid bath within a penthouse tub and she was engaged to a guy named Billy Ruchino.  Det. Fernandez would go on to expound how both murdered women were actually sisters and that thankfully, she and her fellow officers managed to take a picture of the murderer.  Following an FBI Facial Recognition scan, they identified the guy as a former hitman named Tony Berdella a.k.a. the Midnight Killer.  Not only that, but the aforementioned slayed sisters were the daughters of a mob boss named Angelo Russo.  As they take their leave via car, Vasko recalls that he’s back in Sicily.  Maureen explains that he made a deal with the FBI to serve as their mole within the Gallo War in exchange for safe passage and protection to said country.  Det. Fernandez then adds that Angelo used to have four children, but in addition to his two baby girls getting lethally maimed, his two sons were also killed in separate overseas incidents.  As such, Jane realizes that someone from Gallo’s side paid Tony in order to send a murderous message to Angelo.  She then assumes that they can just let everyone within this gang war settle this themselves, but Maureen reveals that the murdered woman over at Bay Ridge actually had a daughter out of wedlock that no one within the mob war knew about, not even Angelo himself.  At the time that her mother was being bumped off, she was on a two-week vacation that her own mom had put her on in order to prevent her from knowing about her mafia connection.  Nowadays, the FBI has informed Angelo about his previously-unknown granddaughter.  However, he wants her returned to Sicily or else he’ll no longer serve as their mole.  Vasko then realizes that her assignment is essentially an escort mission, to which Det. Fernandez also mentions that the young woman named Becky has suddenly had her existence spilled by someone, thus leading to a massive hit order getting placed on her.  Maureen then tells her friend that this mission will come with a huge payout should she succeed and that she’ll have some contacts to help her out.  With them having just arrived at a bar, Chapter 1 ends with Jane telling Det. Fernandez that it’s going to take more than just alcohol to convince her to take the job.

Chapter 2 begins one day later as Vasko is on a European-bound flight with Becky, while also narrating that her attitude isn’t good, yet she’s willing to play nice towards her due to recent events.  However, they end up getting into a brief argument about her being allowed to have some beer, regardless of being outside of America.  Jane then tries to sympathize with her since they both lost their own mothers, but Becky doesn’t respect her enough to be her friend, especially since she’s found out how her mom died.  However, she doesn’t know what her mother ever did to deserve such a grisly fate, or even why Vasko was chosen to look after her for this excursion.  Eventually, they land in Rome, Italy as Becky asks why they didn’t just fly all the way to her grandfather’s home in Taormina.  Vasko tells her that there wasn’t a direct flight available and that they’re going to Naples in order to reach their contact.  From there, they’ll escort her to Sicily before she gets paid and enjoys her European trip.  After making their way through the terminal, they meet up with their driver named Anthony who’s ready to take them on a two-hour drive to Naples.  Suddenly, he gets shot in the head as Jane forces Becky into the car, evading some further gunshots as she manages to drive off while telling Becky to stay down.  A pair of goons proceed to chase after them as the gunman of the group continues to fire away, though his bullets are unable to pierce through the bulletproof back window.

As Vasko attempts to evade their pursuers, she spots an armed woman in the road who knows her and tells her to get out of the way.  Just as Jane swerves off the road, the woman manages to shoot the two opposing hitmen and execute them.  After she and Becky get out of their wrecked car, Vasko soon recognizes their savior as her past lover named Ajira.  As our three ladies acquire another car and head out, Ajira catches Jane up on what she’s been up to ever since their last team-up.  She explains that she’s been in Europe in order to do some freelance work, which is how she ultimately came across her current job working for Angelo.  She admits that she was initially hesitant about taking the escort assignment for him, but she ultimately accepted it once she learned that Vasko would be involved with the gig.  Jane is then happy to learn that she’ll have some time off following their task, since it’ll allow them to share some European vacation time together.  Becky then gets annoyed by their banter, to which Ajira stops the car in the middle of the highway and reminds her that every assassin on the entire continent is now gunning for them in order to claim a bloody bounty on her head.  Ajira then tells her that she’s involved with this assignment in order to get paid.  Not to mention, she’s already gathered enough wealth in order to leave the mission altogether and pay Vasko the final payout for their assignment.  As such, she tells Becky to reign her bad attitude in and refrain from verbally attacking both of their sexual preferences.  If she doesn’t, then Ajira will have no problem executing her herself and take the financial loss.

With all party members in agreement, they ultimately reach Pontecagnano as night falls before reaching a low-end motel in order to rest up.  They then talk to the receptionist (who conveniently speaks English) named Franco and acquire a room before they learn of a nearby restaurant that his brother Tony operates that they can eat at.  Unbeknownst to them, a small group of vans arrive on the scene as a group of armed assassins emerge in order to engage our main ladies.  Over at the restaurant, Jane and Ajira share some playful banter with Becky as they remind her that they’re staying within a short distance of her until she’s delivered to her grandfather.  Just as Tony comes by to prep them for dessert, he gets shot by a sudden bullet barrage as our ladies gets forced to hide in the kitchen.  Just as Vasko discovers that they’re surrounded, an armed agent attempts to enter as she tries to fend him off.  Fortunately, Ajira acquired a chopping knife and throws it into the fiend’s head, allowing Jane to acquire his gun.

Back in the restaurant’s main area, the rest of the armed agents enter as the leader reminds his team that they’ll receive a huge bonus if they let their main target live, yet they’re allowed take the rest of the opposing group out.  Just as they begin to spread out, a few of them get shot by Franco.  Thankfully, this served enough of a distraction for both Vasko and Ajira to fire back at the enemy agents.  While Becky complains that she’s only armed with a knife, an armed agent managed to sneak up behind her and smack her with his gun in order to knock her out.  Meanwhile, Jane and Ajira manage to gun down the opposing agents while Franco tearfully discovers his brother’s bullet-riddled body.  Afterwards, Vasko discovers that a few enemy agents have managed to kidnap Becky and force her into their van.  With both her & Ajira completely out of bullets and thus are unable to shoot out the van’s tires, they’re forced to run after the fleeing vehicle.  Despite their enemies gaining some significant ground on them, our ladies soon notice that the van is swerving on a cliffside road.  Becky had apparently gotten free and disrupted them strongly enough for them to plummet off the road.  Jane & Ajira manage to catch up and spot the wrecked vehicle at the bottom of the gorge as Ajira thinks that Becky survived the crash.  Just as she tells Vasko that they should head down to investigate, the van suddenly explodes.  However, they don’t seem too bummed by this turn of events and are suddenly looking forward towards spending a few weeks together relaxing in Europe.  Just then, it’s revealed that they noticed that Becky was still alive as she climbs back up after hearing their banter.

As our three women drive off, Jane tells Becky that they saw that she was OK before they ultimately reach a “carless house” as Ajira manages to pick the lock and let them in.  With them leaving the lights off in order to avoid detection from any outside assassin, Becky heads into the bathroom in order to finally take a shower, all-the-while Vasko and Ajira continue to taunt her.  We then shift ahead to the next day as Becky wakes up and hears Jane & Ajira taking a shower together.  After they playfully talk about the “family” that they’re ultimately leaving her with, they then approach Becky in their birthday suits.  Despite her being annoyed by their acts, Ajira tells Becky that Italians aren’t prudish towards nudity and that they’re actually more offended towards violence.  Suddenly, they’re met upon the house’s true occupant to close out Chapter 2.

Chapter 3 opens with our three ladies back on the road as Vasko narrates about how the house that they previously occupied was empty in the first place.  The man was in a nearby town caring for his sick mother and had spent the night there.  As for our main group, they managed to get out of their situation by paying him off in order to ensure that he doesn’t report them to the authorities.  During their day-long drive towards their next checkpoint, the downtime has allowed Becky to get some much-needed relaxation.  Along the way, Ajira opens herself up to her by sharing how she became a mercenary.  In particular, it was back in her home country of Kuwait when her parents were kidnapped “by some very bad men” and she got blackmailed into doing their bidding before they were ultimately returned to her after they were murdered.  Eventually, she and Jane met each other before they joined forced to defeat a terroristic cell while becoming very close friends with each other, even sharing their own brand of sick humor.  While Becky was mainly quiet throughout, Vasko noticed that she was being far-less aggressive towards her and Ajira.  Jane then concludes her narration by mentioning her notion that neither she nor Ajira know too much about Becky, yet there’s hardly any time left to implore due to them arriving at their checkpoint.  They ultimately reach a pier before Vasko asks a trio of bodyguards where their master named Federico is, especially since she and her fellow ladies will only get on board his yacht if he comes down and talks to her.  Ultimately, he meets up with her and confirms himself before our main women embark on his seacraft.  After making some progress out on the water, the boat suddenly comes to a stop as Federico reveals his heal turn by having some thugs climb on board before they prep their guns in order to execute Becky.  Jane executes Federico with a quick headshot before withstanding a shot to her shoulder as she ultimately guns the present goons down.  While Vasko heads up to the bridge in order to take control of the yacht, Becky spots several more guys attempting to climb on board as Ajira tells her to grab as many guns as she can and hand over most of them while also reuniting with Jane.  Meanwhile with Vasko, she guns down some opposing men while ordering the captain to get the boat moving.

While the seacraft’s sudden movement shakes off a few goons that were trying to climb on board, Ajira manages to grab a pair of knives from the kitchen and throw them into two approaching henchmen.  Up in the bridge, Vasko is approached by two remaining thugs as she tries to fend them off by threatening to execute the captain.  However, they don’t care as they attempt to confront her.  Suddenly, they get gunned down by Becky as Jane gives her a hand gun and tells her to keep it aimed at the captain’s head.  Afterwards, Vasko meets up with Ajira as they spot a massive boat approaching them and filled with more armed goons.  After assuring her of Becky’s status, Jane says that they can fire away at the looming seacraft in order to damage it.  With them armed with the executed henchmen’s guns, they happily begin to open fire.  And so, Chapter 3 ends on a nearby nude beach as the patrons notice the two boats in the distance before the constant bullet barrage takes its toll upon the looming yacht and causes it to blow up.

Chapter 4 begins sometime later as our main ladies arrive at their destination port before they meet up with their last group of armed contacts, led by Angelo’s current wife named Rose.  She then tells our main women that her husband has invited them over for dinner and that they’ll spend the night there before Vasko and Ajira will be allowed to head out on departing flights.  While Jane wasn’t actually looking forward to staying over at the Russo mansion, they ultimately climb into the car and head out.  Later, our group arrives at the Russo Estate before Angelo finally gets to meet his granddaughter and tells her that she’ll stay here & work within his kitchen under his own protective group.  Becky then asks him if he truly feels safe within his own home before telling him that it’s all an “illusion”.  Suddenly, she stabs him and lets him know that his “friends in Washington” are aware that he’s playing both sides of his mob war.  After Angelo falls over dead, she then tells Rose that her husband got involved in duplicitous activities.  Afterwards, Becky takes out a note that lets Rose know that the U.S. Government will allow her to take command of her former husband’s family operations and that she’ll be provided with the proper protection, as long as she cooperates.  She then tells both Vasko & Ajira that she’s actually an agent for the FBI’s Special Branch before apologizing to them about keeping her actual identity and mission a secret in order to rub Angelo out.  When Becky says that it wasn’t “personal”, Jane and Ajira decide to pay her back for her action by punching her before they take their leave as Ajira tells her that she better receive her payment within 24 hours or else.

Later, Vasko has called up Maureen in order to furiously vent her frustration towards her about being played like this, especially since her friend knew about Becky’s undercover agent status and didn’t tell her about it.  Eventually, it’s revealed that she’s actually leaving a message on Det. Fernandez’ answering machine before she throws her cell phone away.  Fortunately, Ajira comes down and assures her that she got them a room that has a king size bed and even a private pool.  Later, Jane is relaxing within the personal pool before Ajira joins her and offers her own thoughts.  She says that it’s possible that Maureen was also unaware of Becky’s private status as an FBI agent and that this nagging thought is distracting her longtime friend from taking in some much-need downtime with her.  Ajira then assures her that her payment from their recent gig is enough for them to spend a whole week here with each other.  Vasko then compliments her for her optimistic look upon their situation as the comic ends with them taking in the gorgeous Italian scenery.

Before I close, I should mention that a third Painkiller Jane project has gotten the Kickstarter treatment as well called Painkiller Jane: Beautiful Killers”.  At the time of this article, the crowdfunding program has already surpassed its minimum $38,000 goal and thus, I’ll ultimately give this two-issue story my own thoughts.

Overall, this was an interesting, semi-rude, semi-crude, yet rough-and-tumble time packed with some of the franchise’s familiar fun.  For this being the character’s first printed story to primarily take place outside of America, it was peculiar to see her away from her regular nation and put her gun-wielding skills to the international test.  There wasn’t any further development of note related to her character at this point in time, at least nothing too dramatically progressive that I could find.  Not to mention, she has somewhat dealt with protecting a young woman in the past during the four-part tale “The Price Of Freedom”.  However, I don’t think that’s too much of a criticism since she’s already seen lots of growth over the years and has settled into her signature snarky attitude with a sharpened skill set for shooting true and staying mentally tough.  Maybe being away from the potentially-investigative side of things has caused her to not thoroughly pick up on the few hints of Becky actually being more than who she was to both her and Ajira.  I will admit that at first glance, I thought that there weren’t enough notable hints to foreshadow something being off with the persona that Becky was portraying at first.  After some repeat readings, I discovered that they were there, even if it’s only a scant few.  From her initially rude attitude changing over time to her surprising use of an automated gun to protect Jane on the bridge, the hints were small in number, yet very subtle.  As for Ajira, it was a genuine surprise when I discovered that a character created during the Dynamite Entertainment era was brought back.  Initially, I didn’t know that it was her since her skin tone was made lighter when compared to last time.  Thankfully, her tough-yet-deeply loving attitude became noticeable to me once her backstory was mentioned.  Despite the fact that this was the first time that we’ve seen this character since 2007, she’s obviously left a huge impact upon Jane back then.  After all, they’re both greatly skilled with firearms, they both operate within the shadows in order to deal some brutal justice and she helped solidify Vasko’s non-traditional sexual orientation status since they’re both intimate & comfortable with each other while baring their bodies amongst themselves without any shame.  Thankfully, Ajira will be accompanying Jane on their European excursion and could potentially see more development, since Jimmy Palmiotti does mention this in the comic’s afterword and says that this will serve as a series of standalone stories while also telling a connected narrative that ultimately has Vasko returning to America.  On a similar note of Palmiotti mentioning that he’ll be working with “a group of amazing artists from all over the world” for the next several chapters of Jane’s action-packed adventures, the artwork from our featured artist Romina Moranelli does look really nice.  No matter how bright or how dark a scene may get, she’s able to make her drawings stand out while also capturing the signature beauty of her native country in both the scenery and of our central characters.  I’m not too familiar with her, but this comic was a good introduction to her work and aside from making Ajira’s skin tone much lighter, it helped the story stand out as much as it could.  As for the narrative, there’s an underlying theme of relationships, whether it be personal or even family.  Jane & Ajira’s well-established and intimate bond with each other remained firmly solid throughout, thus allowing them to trust each other in order to make sure that their assignment reaches its proper conclusion.  For the Italian mob boss Angelo Russo, his family relationships have been greatly severed due to all of his immediate children getting murdered.  Because he never knew of his granddaughter Becky, his lack of familiarity with her ultimately proves to be his downfall.  As for Becky, she serves as a secretive wild card for this theme.  Because her mother purposefully kept her away from the family business, she was able to forge a life of her own long before her family connection was brought into the light.  At some point, she joined the FBI and went through some effective training in order for her to get the drop on Angelo once he decides to threaten to severe his helpful connection.  Through all of this, the overarching theme tells us that relationships can only work when both sides have had the time to willing share the necessary details about one other.  Finally, the pacing felt good throughout as each chapter balanced its action-packed moments with some developmental and caring downtime.  It allows its reader to breathe with some nice story progression, while mixing in some adult humor and wit that fits in line with what longtime readers have come to know & expect from Vasko.  At the time same time, it delivers a timely arrival of action to shake things up and bring some physical confrontations to the fore with some bloody good results.  All-in-all, it’s an effective start to this part of Jane’s life and it will be interesting to see how she and Ajira will progress as they make their way across the European landscape.  No matter the various twists and turns that Vasko and her skillful lover come across, this newest chapter has continued to add some excitement to her so-called “cosmic joke of a life”.

Painkiller Jane (created by Jimmy Palmiotti & Joe Quesada) is owned by PaperFilms.

By coolcomix0221

Love Comics, Video Games, and Sports. Aim To Become a Sports Writer.

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