Written by Mike Carey
Penciled by Sonny Liew
Inked by Marc Hempel
176 pages, black and white
Published by Minx/DC Comics

One of my absolute favorite books of 2004 was My Faith in Frankie by Mike Carey, Sonny Liew, and Marc Hempel, a fun story about friendship, love, and personal gods. When I’d heard that they were teaming up to create Re-Gifters, a graphic novel about martial arts and crushes, I was cautiously optimistic. It’s easy to get one’s hopes up a little too high based on past successes; after my large expectations were created, would a book about a girl living in Los Angeles studying hapkido still be able to make me happy?

Jen Dik Seong is the daughter of first- and second-generation Korean immigrants, who studies the Korean martial art of hapkido and keeps the family traditions alive. She’s also Dixie, the high school student who has a hopeless crush on Adam Heller in her hapkido class and would do absolutely anything to get his attention. When Adam’s birthday party comes around, Dixie impulsively makes a decision that will jeopardize her upcoming entry in the hapkido tournament, her relationship with her parents, and most importantly her hopes of getting Adam as a boyfriend. But in the world of re-gifting, what goes around comes around in more ways than one.

Carey’s story for Re-Gifters is structured in an interesting combination of luck and consequences—in some ways, a pretty apt description of life in general. For the most part, it’s a story where things happen for a reason; each action causing a different reaction, if not immediately. For that alone it’s a well-written story because you look at the sequence of events and it all makes sense. Except, however, that just like life there is the occasional curveball. Freak accidents or events can happen, after all, and it’s that which makes Re-Gifters a little unpredictable, upping the level of suspense. At the same time, while it’s easy to look at the plotting of Re-Gifters and be happy with it, the real strength is in Carey’s bringing his characters to life. Dixie, Adam, Avril, and even Dillinger come across as well-rounded, interesting people. They’ve got bigger motivations than a two-word description, and most importantly they’re fun to read about. Carey’s ear for dialogue keeps the book moving briskly and entertainingly, and there’s a real sense of energy and excitement on each page that makes you want to read more, and fast. Best of all, there’s no cheat at the end, no deus ex machina or out-of-left-field surprise. It all comes together in a way that is expected, but at the same time immensely satisfying. Now that’s not something you always find in comics these days.

Liew and Hempel’s collaboration here looks, unsurprisingly, great. It’s a fun, energetic art style; Liew and Hempel shift between a tight focus on features and faces on characters in the foreground, and a loose, less-defined approach to things in the background. It’s a nice trick to draw your eyes to what’s going on at that moment, but at the same time doesn’t ignore the fact that there are other things going on around the characters. I think what I really like the most about their art when it comes to drawing people is that they seem real despite its stylized approach; hair is never perfect, postures aren’t stiff or posed, and the characters move across the page in a way that really conveys action. What could have been less-than-perfect with the hapkido matches instead comes across loose and flowing, almost as if you’re watching the match itself. I’ve been a fan of both Liew and Hempel’s art in the past, and Re-Gifters just confirms my feelings on their strengths.

At the end of Re-Gifters, all I could think was that I wanted to see a sequel. There’s a lot of room for one, too; even if it didn’t focus on Dixie, a book on her younger brothers Mickey and Soon, or best friend Avril seems really appealing. That’s when I realized just how much I’d enjoyed Re-Gifters, that my immediate reaction was to think of ways that we could get more stories about these characters. I suspect that once you read it, you’ll feel the same way too. This is an immense amount of fun; best of all, if you liked this and haven’t read My Faith in Frankie, you’ve at least got something else by the entire creative team waiting to be read. Re-Gifters is what should have kicked off the Minx line of books, and is nothing short of a joy to read. Highly recommended.

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