Assassinistas doesn’t tell the story you think it would. Three badass assassin women, running around the world killing selfish CEOs and politician pricks… Sounds like a great story, right? And we’ve seen stories like that, from Kill Bill in film to Codename Baboushka in comics. But writer Tini Howard and artist Gilbert Hernandez aren’t content to tell us a story we’ve heard before. Instead, they explore what happens after these kick butt assassinistas stop kicking butt — professionally, at least.
The real story in Assassinistas is who these women are and how they live now. While we meet them in the past, picking up guns at a roller disco and dying their hair in dirty motel rooms, what’s more interesting is what happens next. They grow up, they grow older. They start families. And those families have to deal with not only the normal struggles of everyday life, but also the legacy of a mom or wife who killed people for a living.
Charlotte “Scarlet” La Costa moves from sharpshooting to a house in the suburbs, drinking decaf tea while pregnant with kid number two. Octavia “Red October” Price has it a bit rougher, raising her son Dominic as a single mother and struggling to make ends meet. Turns out not much pays as well as killing people does. The third in their assassinista trio, Rosalyn “Blood” Diamond, seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth. At least until someone wearing her mask sneaks into Charlotte’s house at night and makes off with her son Kyler. (Ugh, even that name is so whitebread suburban America.)
Hernandez is well known for his sympathetic and powerful work with female characters, and he’s a fantastic match for Howard’s assassinistas. His art places the heightened conflict of kidnapping and murdered on the same level as the small familial drama of Dominic’s coming out to his mother. He’s so fantastic at portraying women of color, queer folk, people from all walks of life with love and respect that as a reader you sympathize and connect with all of Howard’s characters.
Assassinistas reminds us that the conflict of everyday life is as important, maybe more so, than the superheroic stories we live in. Those superheroes, those villains, those larger than life characters — well, they’re not actually larger than life. They deal with the same things we do, and these two aspects of their lives intersect, too. Your past stays with you. It shapes who you are, and how you handle what comes.