Comics, Gender

Review: Lady Killer #5

Lady Killer 5, Jones and Rich, Dark Horse, 2015Lady Killer #5

Joelle Jones & Jamie S. Rich (writers), Joelle Jones (artist), Laura Allred (colors), Crank! (letters)
Dark Horse
May 13, 2015
(This review contains spoilers.)

I picked up this comic with a mix of excitement and trepidation. Excitement for seeing how the story concludes – will Josie kill Peck? Will Ruby? And what about Frau Mother-in-Law? What does she know? But my excitement was tempered by the knowledge that this is the last issue of Lady Killer.

Well, the last issue for now.

That’s right! Lady Killer will not be ending at issue #5! I am assuming everyone followed my repeated “advice” and went out and purchased every issue.

At the end of the issue, in place of Josie’s usual advice column for getting those pesky blood stains out of your carpet, there is a letter from Jamie S. Rich, Lady Killer’s co-writer. Rich promises Josie will return in Lady Killer #1 “some months from now.” Rich won’t be on the team though, as his latest duties as senior editor of Vertigo are consuming most of his time. It’ll be interesting to see how Lady Killer changes without Rich on board, but the letter seems to imply Jones has been driving this bus all along.

Regardless, this means more mid-century modern design! More pillbox hats and stockings! More bloodbaths as Josie rips and roars across the panels!

Lady Killer #5 is a killer (har!) ending to this arc, so let’s review! In the previous issue, Josie teamed with two other killers for hire to help her take down Stenholm and Peck: Ruby, a Chinese-American woman with a grudge against Peck; and Irving, an older gentleman who apparently knows Frau Mother-in-Law.

The setting is the Seattle World’s Fair, which opened on April 21, 1962. America has exited the apparently cozy 1950s and is heading into the turbulent 1960s. This World’s Fair was particularly important for American chest-thumping. Americans had to prove their technological (and moral) superiority over those pesky Ruskies. The Cuban Missile Crisis is just around the bend, and the U.S. is fully embroiled in the Vietnam War. The technological optimism emphasized by the fair and the vague calls for “peace in our time” are well-captured in these first few pages as Josie and Ruby work undercover as volunteers.

With the tone and setting firmly established, we quickly launch into bloody violence, which carries the reader through the issue with some of the best action sequences thus far. It’s notable that Josie prefers knives to guns. Knives require a closeness, an intimacy with one’s intended victim that guns do not. Fortunately for Josie, in this crowded setting, guns are too risky for attracting attention. Josie slashes and hacks her way through her male adversaries in what is one of the best action sequences thus far. She stabs a man in the skull. She stabs another one while fending another one off with her powerful thighs. She is striking, even with blood splattered across her face. The hard lines of her body defy 1950s ideal femininity.

Allred’s colors only heighten Josie’s violence and control. Scenes become suffocatingly warm monochromatics when Josie draws blood, yet Josie becomes a cool drink of water as she pulls back for the next strike: violence contrasted with cool calculation. But Josie is not without her hesitation, and it’s this combination of actions that makes Josie an increasingly compelling character. She is largely taciturn in her communication — you learn the most about her by watching her perform her duties as an assassin.

What also stands out in these bloody sequences is how Josie and Ruby take hits like anyone else. They are punched and kicked with blood flying from their mouths, thrown through glass, and they deliver powerful hits in return. These scenes are about survival, not sexy spy bodies in distress.

At one point, Josie encounters Stenholm, who continues to berate her about being an assassin; Josie insists it was her “choice.” The emphasis on choice is interesting. In Rich’s letter, he mentions how Jones pitched the series as not “just an excuse to draw tailored clothes and vintage furniture” (which admittedly in Jones’ hands and Allred’s colors, I would be just fine with), but through the lens of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, the rallying cry for middle-class housewives during the second wave of feminism. Jones wanted to explore “what it meant to give up an education and career to take care of a husband and kids and clean the house day in and day out.” Considering this spin, I am really looking forward to how Josie’s origins as assassin will be handled when the series returns. And in another intriguing turn, Josie isn’t the one to kill Stenholm. Instead, Irving takes care of this in a scene that alludes to his mysterious past.

The issue concludes on an exciting note that clearly sets up the new arc. Oh, what happens to Peck, you ask? Well, you should read the issue to find out.