Published by Dark Horse
Story by Joelle Jones and Jamie S. Rich
Art by Joelle Jones
Colors by Laura Allred
Postwar America has become a very popular setting for fiction in the wake of hits like Matthew Weiner’s ‘Mad Men.’ In the eight years since that television show’s debut, we have seen TV tales about Soviet spies, Oscar-winning films dramatizing the Iran hostage crisis, and comic book upon comic book looking at alternate takes on the era.
The latest take in this subgenre comes from Dark Horse: “Lady Killer.” The book tells the story of Josie Schuller, your typical nuclear housewife who, in her spare time, is a deadly assassin. She is ruthless in her work, but struggles keeping the balance at home, desperately trying to hide her second life from her husband, two children, and overbearing mother-in-law. Soon, the two begin to clash for Josie’s attention; jobs get more and more involved, the mother-in-law starts asking questions.
Vital to the story here is its setting. ‘Lady Killer’ takes place in 1962, during the most vital period in the history of women’s rights. It was in the 60’s that the second wave of feminism swept over the United States, bringing with it a wave of changes both social and legislative. Josie Schuller sits at the nexus of this revolution as a symbol of a woman in a time of change. While still performing all her duties as a housewife and mother, she is one of the most dangerous assassins in the world. She is focused on her career, and excellent at it, while being as great a mother and wife as possible.
The complex plot is heavy in irony. In the opening sequence, for example, Josie poses as a door-to-door Avon lady in order to do a job. After it’s done, and there’s blood everywhere, she notices that there’s a tiny blood stain on her dress. ‘Ah! Darn it,’ she says, which sets a humorous tone throughout the book that made more brutal scenes—there’s one assassination in particular about halfway through that made me have to put the book down for a minute—a bit more palpable. It’s also very restrained: nowhere in this book is there any direct objectification of exploitation of Josie, though the concept may seem to call for a grind house treatment.
Jones’ art, whose deep, strong inks recall other artists who work in this era with an edgier feel, moves at the exact pace of the action in your head. The panels transition smoothly and your imagination fills in the gaps perfectly. It sounds silly, but this is a really particular thing that I don’t feel often; Jones has accomplished it here beautifully. The ink work is heavy and deep, both in characters and as pitch-black blood.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a second to praise the color work by Laura Allred. Allred’s work is so strong that it stands out as its own organism on the page. For example, in cape books with multiple artists, like ‘FF’ or ‘X-Statix,’ her colors stood so strong that they unified the different art styles. Here, Allred’s colors are significantly muted. Certain things stand out—the bright yellow of a New York cab, a red dress—but, in a great move, the muted nature of the book draws even more grit than the heavy ink does.
Without saying too much, it ends on a perfect note leaving you hungry for more—and, luckily, Dark Horse has recently announced that the team is coming back for another limited series. I highly recommend jumping on the bandwagon early. Give it a shot next time you’re in your local comic shop. You won’t be able to put it down!