by Joelle Jones, Jamie S. Rich, Laura Allred, CRANK!
“Mad Men‘s Betty Draper meets Dexter.”
That’s the quote I went into this book expecting, and it’s a fair enough description. The only difference is the main character is not a serial killer, but an assassin for hire. That distinction will reevaluate how you see the book.
Josie Schuller is the perfect 1950’s era housewife. She’s beautiful, charming, impeccably dressed, and an efficient killer. When she is not cooking, cleaning, or taking care of her children, she is working on her latest mark. The book starts off with her completing a mission before returning home to fulfill her domestic duties, and the rest of the series follows that formula. Almost equal time is spent showing both sides of Josie’s life, and it works well in establishing the character.
The much hyped kills in the book are plentiful and gory, but never devolve into Saw territory. Maybe it’s my own interpretation, but most of the death scenes seem to have this sexual undertone in the position of the bodies and their expressions. If that is intentional, its a great way to imply how sex was often suggested in the 50’s through subtle or sometimes unsubtle images. If not, well it makes the death scenes more interesting I suppose.
Speaking of appearances, the book looks terrific. The paper seems to have a grainy quality to it, reminiscent of the pulp books of the time. Everything except Josie, appropriately enough, has this inky grime to it. Josie herself seems to glow off the page in her perfection. The detail in the architecture and car design is also perfect, capturing the long-gone era and making it feel alive again. Artist Joelle Jones also has some wonderful single page designs, such as an apartment building dividing in two to look like a girl’s doll house, that make a scene become more intriguing and keep the reader’s eye looking at the page. The colors by Laura Allred (Mike Allred’s frequent colorist and wife) are crisp and distinct, playing to the mundane domesticity and fast-beating espionage.
In terms of overall plot, it’s pretty straightforward; Josie loves her job but her employers want her more committed to the job, providing the main conflict. Josie is happy living two lives, but her handler Peck and their overseer Mr.Steinholm, both doubt her ability to do so. Josie’s husband is the understanding, sometimes condescending type, while her children are rowdy but manageable. Josie’s mother-in-law is the irritable, compliant care-taker when Josie is away, but always suspicious of what she does out of the house. Josie’s career is where the action occurs, while her family life provides some drama to breath out from the blood-letting excitement. With that dynamic, how could she not function as a housewife and assassin?
There’s not a lot of actual meat in the plot, in terms of themes or messages. The only source of sexism, or commentary there on, comes from Josie’s handler Peck. He’s portrayed as the typical skirt-chaser, always flirting with Josie despite her objections. There’s not a lot of overlap with Mad Men in the story’s approach to the time period, other than setting. None of this is meant as criticism, but observation instead. The book is a blast to read and look at, and kept me turning page after page. It’s a fun experience, which is the best thing I can say about comics nowadays.
Criticisms I do have center on the art. Parts of Josie’s outfit such as pantyhose and garter belts, will be absent in some panels until the end of a scene and then mysteriously appear. Likewise Josie’s musculature and proportion will seem drastically changed during a fight and then return to normal. Artistic license is one thing, but it seems like Jones had some difficulty in drawing a woman with muscle and mistakenly fell back on male anatomy. Though they took me out of the book, the instances were brief enough that I don’t hold them against the book’s overall quality.
Lady Killer is one of those books you stumble across and kick yourself for not reading it sooner. Don’t let that be you. Josie Schuller is a compelling female character, a capable woman unencumbered by the era she lives in but instead owning it to her satisfaction. The story has both action and drama, as well as an visually appeasing aesthetic in setting. Highly recommended for those looking for something different from the current offerings of the Big Two.
Rating: Poor, Fair, Good, Great, Excellent