Jamie S. Rich, who’s a cool dude, asked me if I’d like an advance copy of Lady Killer #1, which he co-wrote with Joëlle Jones (according to Rich, she did the main plotting). As I am a fan of both Rich and Jones, I said sure! So let’s take a look at it!
A few years ago, Garth Ennis debuted Jennifer Blood, which was about a “normal” housewife who went out at night and hunted down mobsters. I bought the first two issues and hated both of them, and even though I heard Al Ewing did some nice work with the character after Ennis left, I didn’t go back. When I read the solicitation for Lady Killer, I thought it sounded awfully familiar, as Josie is a “normal” housewife who kills people.
The big difference? She’s actually a hired assassin. So there’s that. I pre-ordered Lady Killer, though, because I trust Jones and Rich, and now I get to read one issue to see what’s what!
As I mentioned, the basic premise is that Josie Schuller is a hired assassin who also has a nice suburban existence with her husband, Gene, and their two daughters, who are apparently twins and look to be about five or so. Gene’s unpleasant German mother lives with them, too, and if you think she’s going to be a fly in the ointment the instant we see her, well … you’ve read fiction before, congratulations! The structure of the comic is nothing we haven’t seen before – we get a cold open where Josie impersonates an Avon saleslady (or maybe she actually is selling Avon) to gain entry to a house, where she proceeds to dispatch the woman living there. Then we get to her home life, where her mother-in-law is unpleasant, her husband genially clueless, and her kids adorably incorrigible. After dinner, a handsome man shows up at her door asking if she’ll take the latest job. That has to be awkward. She gives in, and we get the set-up for the next issue, with Josie dressed in a sexy outfit at a gentlemen’s club, where the target likes to hang out. But what will happen when her mother-in-law confronts her because she (the mother-in-law) thinks Josie is having an affair (she spotted Josie with the handsome dude)? That’s for the future!
A lot of this, you might note, is not exactly breaking new ground. We’ve seen the typical suburban parent (sometimes a mom, sometimes a dad) who has a double life as a super-duper killer/spy/superhero. I doubt if even Jones and Rich would say this is unique. As with most things, it’s all about the execution (so to speak), and in comics, a lot of that comes down to the artwork. Plots can stay the same, but art can have such a big effect on how a work is perceived, and luckily, Jones keeps getting better, and she is killing it on this book. One thing she does is set this is an indeterminate time period. I mean, it’s probably the 1950s (or at least the early 1960s), because everything points that way, but it’s not really clear. The fact that it’s probably set in the 1950s/1960s automatically makes it more interesting, because women in the Fifties were, of course, not as liberated as they are now, so just as Velvet is more interesting because it’s set during a time when women were not high-level spies, this being set in the 1950s/1960s means that Josie’s “occupation” has more levels than it would have even today, when it would still be ridiculous. The fact that Josie’s first victim is apparently a Russian woman living in hiding in the States, implying that she’s either a) a spy or b) some kind of important refugee, makes her death interesting, while the fact that Josie’s mother-in-law is German so soon after World War II might come into play.
These sorts of little details make this first issue, which is fairly predictable in some ways, more interesting than it seems on first glance.
In addition to that, Jones just knows how to draw a fine-looking comic. She does wonderful work with the clothing, as Josie wears very stylish dresses and Peck (her handler) looks devilishly handsome in his black suit with the purple lapels (if I were handsome and/or thin, I would kill for that suit). Mrs. Roman is sitting at home, so Jones puts her in a bathrobe and curlers that allows her to slowly come apart as Josie tries to kill her (it’s not easy, as Mrs. Roman is a bit tougher than Josie thinks she’ll be). Josie’s fight with Mrs. Roman is terrific – it’s reminiscent of the first fight in Kill Bill, in that it takes place in an incongruous suburban setting and it’s between two women, and Jones does a really nice job showing how hard it is to get in a position to actually kill someone. She also does amazing work with the details of the Schullers’ home and neighborhood – the house is a bit chaotic because of the kids running around, while Peck drives a cool-ass car (the make and model of which I should know, I guess, but I don’t) that probably gets him laid as much as his bitchin’ suit does. The story is a bit comedic, as it has to be in order to avoid becoming too turgid, and Jones does a wonderful job with the characters’ facial expressions to keep the tone light even as the subject matter of the book is never far from our thoughts. She’s particularly good with Gene’s satisfied and somewhat stupefied expressions – you get the feeling that even if Peck walked into the house and discussed Josie’s next assignment with her in the living room, Gene wouldn’t notice because he’s too busy watching his sitcoms and smoking his pipe. He doesn’t seem like a complete idiot, but he does seem a bit oblivious. Finally, Laura Allred colors this book wonderfully.
In the first scene, Josie is wearing a baby blue outfit, and when she finally kills Mrs. Roman, Allred uses a lot of earth tones on the page, which makes the blue pop quite nicely against it. When we’re inside the Schullers’ house, Allred uses a lot of bright colors to make the unreal suburban setting stand out more, which also contrasts with Josie’s mother-in-law’s sourpuss mien throughout – she looks completely out of place. Allred is superb – Jones’s style is one that works better with flatter colors, and Allred doesn’t over-render the work, so Jones’s precise and sharp lines stand out very well.
Whenever I review something, I often think about why I like it more than something similar. This is similar to Jennifer Blood, but the first issue of that comic was one of the worst comics I’ve read in the past five years or so, while this is far more delightful. Tone is important, and the fact that this seems to be less misanthropic and angry than that book goes a long way. Gene doesn’t seem like a scumbag, he seems like a guy who loves his wife but isn’t terribly attentive. Josie doesn’t seem like a bad mother, she seems like someone who loves her children. The characters, despite the somewhat unreal situation of the book, feel more “realistic” – they interact with each other better, and the dialogue is fairly naturalistic, where the writing in Jennifer Blood was painfully clichéd. And the art is not even comparable, as Jones brings this comic to life wonderfully. I always have to consider that I might not be objective, either – I don’t know Jones and Rich well, but I have met them a few times and they’re always very nice to talk to. Does that influence me? Possibly, although I hope not. I can recognize that Lady Killer doesn’t really break any new ground, but I also recognize that not a lot of comics – or any form of entertainment – does, and for me, Jones and Rich do a nice job with a familiar concept, plus they have more in here than is apparent on first glance. I’m certainly looking forward to the entire series (it’s five issues), and I encourage you to give it a look.
Lady Killer is written by Joëlle Jones and Jamie S. Rich, drawn by Jones, colored by Laura Allred, and lettered by Crank! It costs $3.50. It’s available on 7 January, but the final order cut-off date is Monday, 1 December, so if you’re interested and you don’t think your retailer will order it, let him know by then. And thanks to Rich for sending me an early copy. That was swell of him!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
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