Review: Lady Killer Takes 1950s Nostalgia to Task in Issue #3

Lady Killer 3, Jones and Rich, Dark Horse, 2015Lady Killer #3

Joelle Jones & Jamie S. Rich (W), Joelle Jones (A), Laura Allred (C)
Dark Horse
March 4, 2015

Lady Killer continues with a look into how our lovely assassin balances the demands of her domestic life with her highly secretive work. It’s a delightful exaggeration of an ongoing sexist issue in a setting frequently fetishized by nostalgia.

In this issue, Josie faces off with her suspicious mother-in-law and her hardest assignment yet. At the same time, Mr. Stenholm (the bigwig of this whole operation) and Peck face off over Josie’s situation: the situation being Josie’s a woman. That’s what it boils down to. Josie’s gender is handled in a fascinating way in this exchangeher professional fate is determined by two men in a pissing contest. Josie’s competency being based on her ability to juggle her domestic and professional duties is particularly poignant considering that this continues to be an ongoing criticism of women (see the types of questions female politicians and female celebrities are asked versus their male counterparts). Josie’s professional work isn’t conventional by any means, but that’s what makes this move on the writers’ part so fascinating; Josie is in the fantastical situation of being a housewife with a secret identity as an assassin, yet this seemingly mundane question is still raised. She becomes an everywoman facing the same challenges to her credibility that women continue to face today. She is asked to take on more professional work in addition to her domestic work in order to compete with men (who don’t have equivalent domestic work to deal with), yet her ability to handle both of these demands is questioned based solely on her gender. Well done, Joelle Jones and Jamie S. Rich, well done.

Just as the prose is sharp and insightful, the art continues to be astounding. Not just because it’s gorgeous, but because it subtly takes our nostalgia for the 1950s to task. Instead of drawing Josie in the popular body shape of this erathe hourglassJosie is drawn with hard angularity and muscularity. (This particularly stands out in issue #2 when she gets in a physical altercation with a hit. See below.)

Lady Killer 2, Jones and Rich, Dark Horse, 2015
Lady Killer #2, page 4. Josie takes out a hit.
Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe—an embodiment of post WWII American idealized femininity

This is important because popular preferences for body types fluctuate based on the sociocultural context of the era. The hourglass returned to vogue in a post-WWII America trying to recover from the changes wrought by yet another world war and return to a “normal” that may or may not have ever existed. This normal was a return to conservative gender roleswhite women in the home, white men in the workforce, heterosexuals need only apply. The hourglass emerged as the idealized body because it is associated, falsely, with overt femininity and fertility. Them there’s childbearing hips! Consider that the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. At this time, Marilyn Monroe was just beginning her emergence as the ideal of femininity in post WWII America. And if you were a woman who didn’t happen to have the actual physical characteristics of the hourglass, you could fake it as seen in Dior’s New Look, which first emerged as “The Look” in 1947, and set the stage for much of 1950s popular fashion.

Dior the New Look
Christian Dior’s The New Look debuted in 1947. Note the exaggerated hourglass shape.

Drawing Josie like yet another Marilyn Monroe or Joan Holloway could transform Lady Killer into the sort of campy fiction that could easily emerge from a comic premised on a 1950s housewife who is also an assassin. Instead, we get a character whose physicality is threatening in a way more often associated with men and who also has the cool demeanor of a calculating killer (though this facade starts to crack in issue #3, as it should). Instead of reinforcing 1950s nostalgia, Lady Killer counters it. Laura Allred’s colors heightens this as a slightly muted version of the common highly saturated colors of 1950s comics and romance comics in particular. Then there’s the subtle ink splatters always alluding to blood or even decay. Whether or not the creators are doing this deliberately, Lady Killer is making a strong statement about our contemporary fascination with all things 1950.

So, are you reading this yet? It’s set for a five issue run, but could go on longer if there’s enough interest. So you need to get on it if you aren’tor face my wrath.

Ginnis Tonik

Ginnis Tonik

Smashing the patriarchy with glitter, pink lipstick, and cowboy boots. You can follow her on Instagram @ginnistonik

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