Writing one of these year-end wrap-ups makes me feel like I’m leaving too much out but this thing was making me crazy enough as it was. I mostly just picked the characters that I could use to say what I felt like saying about comics. Now that it’s done, it *IS* kind of fun to scroll through this diverse array of characters with all the colors and textures bringing them to life in their panels. I wrote this for women-centric mag STACKEDD but I have man favorites too, a separate list I will try to put up here before New Years. Cheers!
Lady Killer #2, published by Dark Horse
Sometimes a previous era’s sexism is illustrated in a way that tries to pass itself off as progressive, but winds up just being another fun way to punish a protagonist for being a woman. That’s what Lady Killer #2 feels like. Wide of the mark, depressing, and with a woman-shaped hole in the middle of it. The fact that the main character seems like a killer Stepford Wife could make for really clever (if gloomy) commentary on sexism and society. The strain of watching this lacquered-over woman go through her day might be worth it for a story with some teeth to it. Lady Killer just doesn’t seem smart enough or self-aware enough to be doing that.
Josie leads a harried existence where she is pinned between the demands of her family and the demands of the violent work she secretly does on behalf of sinister men who talk down to her and try to control her. The premise has potential, and artist (and co-writer) Joelle Jones and colorist Laura Allred do interesting things together with the look of the book. I love the pops of red against pastels, and I love the sense of style in the panels. But Jones’s pin-up veneer doesn’t always serve the story she’s telling with Jamie S. Rich, and is part of the reason the reader can’t gain purchase. It feels like Lady Killer was primarily meant to be glossy, stylistic and full of fun vintage imagery—and that the actual story of Josie was an afterthought, in service to the book’s gory pin-up aesthetic. This book pretends to be camp with a kick, and achieves callous, empty unkindness.
This issue tries to make something out of Josie being criticized in the workplace for making her family a priority. That could be relatable enough, except Josie’s family is composed of creepy mannequins. This book is a caricature of a caricature of the 1960s, filtered through Mad Men but with all the cleverness strained out before it gets to you. Josie isn’t enough of a person to have a real family, and her family is stylized unto dollhood. Josie herself is just a sexy automaton, positioned here and there while killing people or chatting with the neighbor about ambrosia salad. From dawn to dusk, she wears costumes and masks, including at home. I made that sound kind of interesting. It isn’t. I do not care about her family or how she feels about her family. As a reader I’m supposed to care by now, but if the whole household goes up in a gas leak explosion, I won’t care at all.
Side note: Josie’s kittenish cocktail waitress onesie is reminiscent of the skimpy costumes that superheroines often wear in other comics. In Josie’s case, it’s obvious that she is going undercover in a low-respect, objectified role. We all know that everyone around her is demeaning her because she’s female and her butt cheeks are hanging out of her outfit, it’s the 1960s, and she’s in a service job. That situation should not feel similar to women in hero roles, who are openly being superheroic. Those two things should feel much, much more different than they do.
Joelle Jones and Laura Allred made some enjoyable dresses, hairstyles, interiors, and colors. But Lady Killer #1 reads like Stepford Wives fan fic, and would be a lot better if it was. Otherwise it’s just the cute story of a woman trapped in a terrible nightmare. Not only must she live out the tired trope of the lacquered, fraudulent 1960s American housewife, but her secret life is one in which she is indentured to a bad man and has to do terrible things in the same uncomfortable, impractical clothing. Does she have a secret life in which she does her own liberated, nasty shit, and then she has to go home and dress for dinner before her husband gets home? Oh no. She has to wear those clothes and that hairstyle all freaking day. And everything murderous she does is on orders from a man who has power over her and who imperils the other life she has that also revolves around a man. She has no discernible personality or will, and just acts like a robot who can be alternately sing-songy or mildly disgruntled or murderous. She is basically a psychopath. She has extremely creepy doll like daughters. This book is a drag passing itself off as a lark.
Published by Dark Horse, Story by Joelle Jones & Jamie S. Rich, Art by Joelle Jones, Colors by Laura Allred.