Black Mask Studio’s Jade Street Protection Services is the rare story set at a magic school post-Harry Potter willing to stray from Hogwarts’ monopoly. Written by Katy Rex (issues one and two) and Fabian Lelay (issue two), with art by Lelay, Mattsdotter is an all-girls academy where wands get traded for gems, personal weapons used to filter and harness the powers of their magic. The existence of a male Mattsdotter is unknown but there are muggles (or “mundies”) and a serious lack of adult role models, with Mrs. Farro either being the school’s Snape or representative of how Mattsdotter views magic training overall: a means to control, not empower. Holding the same, dated priorities on marriage eligibility as a Jane Austen novel, gender stereotypes appear to be all the rage with staff. How they’ve gotten away with these belittling ideals is one of the questions that keeps Jade Street charged, while feminism fights to make its presence known in Lelay’s sharp costume designs.
Beginning on page one, stat boxes lay out the core cast, with identifying facts about hobbies and specialties, but this isn’t the group we meet on page two. Timed before they become friends, the fab five are mixed in with other peers from their class for a slightly overwhelming number of faces starting out. Knowing who the significant players are going to be provides focal points, but sometimes the desire to find them in the crowd leads to forced recognitions. I tried to convince myself every blonde was Emma, the narrator, before she actually appeared.
The positive side of this wider, opening approach is that it prioritizes the perspective of the silent observer. Emma is a new kind of lead. She knows what’s it’s like to be studied in strangers you’ve barely spoken to (see the stat boxes), or know the answer to a question posed in class but not say it aloud. Emma is on the autism spectrum and doesn’t communicate verbally. In a comic that’s heavily dialogue based (snaps to Taylor Esposito’s clear lettering), narration is made essential for her voice.
Reminiscent of a more diverse Breakfast Club, the team comes together over a shared detention, that ends with them sneaking off campus for kebabs and froyos. Having still not returned to school grounds in issue two, their departure for food becomes more permanent with the discovery that Mattsdotter is not only sexist but corrupt. Shady, black market magic guys don’t yet hold the same interest that their shady, teacher collaborators do, and issue two suffers from some quick scene changes and sudden, left field alliances (Magpie, the owner of the restaurant they stumble into?). Characters express a similar whiplash, so there’s definitely an awareness that big reveals will require some adjustment. While inclined to hope a return to Mattsdotter is immanent in issue three, Emma, Noemi, Saba, Divya, and Kai are worth getting to know better, as they try to figure out the extent of freshly discovered abuses and put their combat lessons to real use.
If you’d like to read it for yourself then you can purchase it HERE.