Kurt Sutter’s Sisters of Sorrow
Kurt Sutter, Courtney Alameda (Writers), Hyeonjin Kim (Artist), Jean-Paul Csuka (Colours), Jim Campbell (Letters)
July 1, 2017
Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter’s comic book miniseries, Sisters of Sorrow, has come to a close with a quiet, yet powerful message. Co-written with horror/science-fiction author Courtney Alameda, the first issue of Sisters of Sorrow was published in July 2017 with the final issue releasing in October.
The first issue received mixed reviews (read AIPT!’s positive review here and IGN’s critical one here) but for anyone unsure about the series, I would ask you to stick it out and read all four issues.
The comics follow a group of four women—Dominique, Sarah, Greta and Misha—who run a home for survivors of domestic violence. Each woman is dealing with her own horrors and tragedies when the husband of one of their friends breaks into the house one night. He attacks them and accidentally kills his wife. The women are incensed; having been through the police system, they are aware that law enforcement includes few allies for them. They realise they must take the law into their own hands. Armed with weapons and technology, they decide to kill the men who have harmed them and those they love.
The tipping point for the quartet isn’t just the loss of their compatriot but more the fact that the men who have taken so much from them won’t even accept their misdeeds. It is primarily to get a confession from these men that the protagonists don nuns’ habits.
Over the four issues, we see each protagonist deal with the abusive men in their lives. Every issue focusses on one woman’s story and the man she is determined to kill. The women are meticulous and methodical in their execution and each brings her own set of skills to the party.
Dominique, who was married to a police officer, advises the quartet on how to hide from the law and clear up forensic evidence. Greta, a former intelligence officer, utilises her tech skills to hotwire systems to their advantage. Sarah is the go-getter, keeping the group on track so they avoid silly mistakes. Misha is the most reluctant among the four, though she technically instigates the group. However, despite a few missteps, she proves to be incredibly resourceful when it comes to covering their tracks.
I must say, I was relieved to see the diversity in the cast of characters. Dominique, Sarah and Misha are women of colour and Greta is white. Their stories are all equally developed, though Dominique’s seems the most well-written of the four. Misha is drawn as a plus-size woman but at no point is her weight brought into the conversation. It is unfortunate that I have to point this out, but fat-shaming is still so prevalent in media. It was a relief to read a series that treated a plus-size character as a person, and not a ‘fat person’.
Sisters of Sorrow is an obviously feminist work. The women in the story are not ‘Strong Women Characters’; they are flawed and they are broken. They are just people, using whatever internal and external resources available to them to fight the good fight. Even if it means sullying their hands.
Most of the villains in the story are obviously men but the women’s greatest ally is also a man. Greta’s brother, Eli, helps them clear the scene of their first murder and then trains them in self-defence. He also tries to act as go-between for Misha when she has a falling out with the rest of the group, but he never pushes his own views on his sister or the other women. He is the only man in the series to be sympathetic to the women’s cause and his only motivation appears to be their safety. I mention Eli because so many stories written by men and featuring male protagonists leave female characters completely by the wayside. It is good to see it done right when the protagonists are female.
The concept of Sisters of Sorrow is intriguing and the series doesn’t shy away from showing the harsh realities of domestic violence. The characters have suffered terribly, and most have also lost their careers and children at the hands of their abusers. It is horrifying, but these are the stories that are front and centre in this series.
Despite its heavy subject matter, the series is a surprisingly quick and easy read. The language is simple, the dialogue is smooth, there aren’t too many details or plot twists. You could easily finish the whole series in an hour, even less, if you decide not to linger on the vivid artwork. But, please do linger on the art; Hyeonjin Kim has done a stunning job.
From the very first page, Kim’s art shows that we are going to get something different with this series. The story begins with violent acts and Kim doesn’t shy away from drawing the gore that results from such brutal acts. Ever wondered what a human head looks like when shot at close range? Kim shows us in vivid detail.
But, it isn’t just the violence that Kim draws well. The first issue closes with a car and motorbike chase down a highway. I was surprised by how suspenseful and action-packed the panels were despite being on the written page instead of on a screen. The way Kim captures the street lights reflecting on the characters is realistic while still being stylised. A few strategically placed lines and you can practically feel the speed of the car on the highway.
Where Kim excels is in drawing the characters. I’ve mentioned the protagonists’ personalities being unique but I loved that they were all drawn as individuals. You always know who is who in the panel. Once again, I only mention this because female characters are so often drawn as doppelgangers of each other that you can only tell apart by the clothes they wear. Even dressed in the nun’s habits, you can still tell the characters in this comic series apart. I cannot applaud Kim enough for this.
Touting the series as ‘Nuns with Guns’, though, has been a bit of a misnomer. The nun’s habits that the group don do not appear till half way through the second issue. Which makes the cover of the first issue extremely misleading and can leave readers feeling a bit blindsided. The habits give the group a shared identity and purpose but it is not what brings them together nor is it their initial modus operandi. Perhaps choosing to highlight other aspects of the story might have been more prudent. Though, understandably, the above tagline is far more marketable in today’s industry.
My main grouse with the series is that it is just too short. Four issues are not enough for a story with characters who immediately grasp our interest, or to develop a plot this nuanced. After every issue I found myself wanting more time with the issue’s protagonist, to see what really made her tick, what had pushed her to this boiling point, what she was like before this abusive man came into her life.
The brevity of the series is its greatest drawback. Too many panels are rushed and the majority of the plot and character backstories are conveyed through exposition. There’s a panel in issue two where Dominique says to Greta, “Holt pushed you down a flight of stairs when you told him you were pregnant!”. Holt is Greta’s ex-boyfriend. Dominique is essentially telling Greta about an event that Greta herself experienced! Real interactions don’t sound like this. It is obvious that the conversation in this panel was written to inform the reader, not the characters. The dialogue, thus, reads as clunky at times.
The series has flaws, undoubtedly, but Sisters of Sorrow is a powerful story and a rare look into the lives of survivors. Most importantly, the series shares a feminist message of taking control, albeit not always so violently, and coming to terms with one’s past in order to move on.
Though it may be unlikely, considering Sisters of Sorrow is a mini-series, I hope that Sutter finds a way to revive the story so we can see the quartet in action again. If you are looking for an inspiring and rousing read, this is definitely for you.