The GeeksverseFirst Impressions | Lady Killer 2 (Dark Horse Comics)

First Impressions | Lady Killer 2 (Dark Horse Comics)
Published on Friday, September 23, 2016 by

Artist and writer Joëlle Jones isn’t content to simply rehash the Eisner-nominated Lady Killer for its sequel.

Publication details:

  • Script and line art: Joëlle Jones
  • Color art: Michelle Madsen
  • Publisher’s description (for Lady Killer #1): The killer housewife is back! The Schuller family has moved to Cocoa Beach, Florida, where life carries on as usual. Josie continues to juggle Tupperware parties, her kids, and a few human heads. However, when someone from her past tails her on a hit, she may be in for more than she bargained for.

lady-killer-2-01Joëlle Jones’ Lady Killer was one of my favorite reads from the previous year. The sexy and stylish five-issue miniseries about a Kennedy-era homemaker who leads a secret double-life as an assassin for a shadowy government organization trained a smart, satirical eye on the gender politics (and actual politics) of early 1960s America whilst not losing sight of its spy/crime thriller remit or taking its premise too seriously. Like many good comics, films, and videogames, Lady Killer had something meaningful to say about the world beyond its fiction, but integral to the success in getting its message across was the fact that it was, first and foremost, expertly crafted and (most importantly) engaging popular entertainment.

What, then, to do for an encore?

If you’re writer/artist Jones, it seems the first tack is to slightly recalibrate the comic’s genre alignment. Whereas the original miniseries was clearly rooted in the conventions of the spy/crime thriller, Lady Killer 2 seems to have been infused with a dissolute grindhouse sensibility, evident in the first issue’s opening sequence, where protagonist Josie Schuller brutally dispatches two elderly women in their home. Further muddying the comic’s moral waters is the development that Josie has now entered into the assassination business for herself after the events of the prior miniseries. While readers could previously rationalize Josie’s worst crimes as being not much different from a soldier simply following orders, her new job as a freelance killer-for-hire threatens to upend the original comic’s “hitman with a heart” conceit.

These are all bold creative decisions, and they are paying off thus far (issue #2 hit retail last week). Instead of simply rehashing the ideas found in the original work, Lady Killer 2 raises new questions about its protagonist’s character and the increased responsibilities that come with greater agency: Josie has liberated herself from her previous life as a government-contracted clandestine killer, but what does it mean when she keeps doing the same things she used to?

lady-killer-2-02This isn’t to suggest that the sequel has totally abandoned the themes that Jones addressed to great effect in the first miniseries, however. Pernicious post-World War II chauvinism is still something Josie has to deal with at home and on the job. The threat of her double-life being exposed is still one of the comic’s driving conflicts. And of course, the comic carries over the original’s combination of high-octane action and delightfully black humor.

Also worth noting are the changes and improvements in terms of the technical execution of the work. Jones is now scripting solo (the previous miniseries was co-written by current Vertigo Comics senior editor Jamie S. Rich), her first time doing so in a major comics release as far as I am aware, but you wouldn’t know it by just reading the comic. Characters have distinct voices, text-based exposition is kept to a necessary minimum, and the dialogue on the whole has a level of polish and sophistication somewhat unexpected of someone with Jones’ relative inexperience as a comics writer.

Jones’ line art, too, shows marked refinement over her already impressive outing in the previous miniseries—the original Lady Killer had some of my favorite comics fight scenes of 2015. I don’t know if Jones is a student of the martial arts, but her comics fight choreography hints at an understanding of the body mechanics of close quarters combat and the narrative logic and principles of realistic fight design for film and television. Lady Killer 2 continues to showcase Josie’s distinct submissions and improvised weapons-based fighting style, lending fight scenes a visceral impact some readers may more readily associate with martial arts manga and anime.

Jones’ vision of the world of Lady Killer is as compelling as ever. Fashions, architecture, cars and even body types fit into our idealized and internalized notion of what America in the early 1960s looked like, all filtered through a rendering style that feels like a cross between that employed by the late Jim Holdaway on the classic Modesty Blaise comic strip and the current work of Dan Panosian (which is to say, it is very, very nice to look at and perfectly fits the tone and the period of the comic).

All in all, Lady Killer 2 looks poised to be a more-than-worthy follow-up to its acclaimed predecessor. Don’t “trade-wait” this one, kids. Recommended.

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