A Tour of the 2016 Eisner Nominees, Part 3 – Lady Killer

The title of Lady Killer, by Joelle Jones and available from Dark Horse Comics, sort of says it all. This is a comic about Josie Schuller, a killer who stabs, punches, kicks and spins without getting (too many) runs in her nylons. Hitting notes that are reminiscent of Kill Bill, the book is about an assassin whose cover is as an early 1960s housewife (think Betty Draper), with her true profession unbeknownst even to her clean-cut sweater-wearing husband and apple-cheeked children (although her German mother-in-law has suspicions). She has a mysterious male handler who looks like he just stepped out of a Bond movie, who assigns her missions that range from posing an Avon lady to posing a Playboy Bunny (and she’s convincing in either guise).

Lady Killer is nominated for its Eisner in the category of Best Limited Series, so we won’t spoil too much of the actual plot (all five issues are available in a TPB). It’s a self-contained story, but it’s certainly not out of the question that it could be continued at a later time. The story, by Joelle Jones and Jamie S. Rich, takes us through a fairly familiar crime story arc, with Josie enjoying the double life she’s leading (housewife/killer), but becoming increasingly disaffected with having to balance work and family, and is looking for a way out. Her superiors, of course, worry that she’s just planning to “go rogue”, because she has such incredible skills. She isn’t just any old killer: she’s the best. The plot then takes us through the usual ups and downs of secret machinations and betrayals, ending with a great, tense sequence set at the Seattle World’s Fair and involving a plot against President Kennedy. The fun of the book is simply revelling in the witty dialogue, great fight scenes and the general attitude of the lead character. She’s no shrinking violent, but she’s also no hardened killer: she’s a fully realized female action hero who mostly avoids cliche. That’s rare enough (alas) to make this a remarkable comic.

Josie and her suave James Bond-y handler

The art, by Joelle Jones, with colours by Laura Allred, is the comic’s not-so-secret weapon. Deliberately aping that pulpy late-40s style, it’s a peek into what comics might have looked like in the early 60s, had there been no comics code. The men are mostly portrayed as clueless, evil or dissolute morons who paw at women like sloppy dogs, but that’s all part of the perspective the book takes, namely Josie’s. Jones, on the other hand, draws women as bombshells, but bombshells with muscles. Josie’s physique is sexy, to be sure, but she also has “guns” and a fierce, angular face and ferocious green eyes that seem to just beg for the chance to put the proverbial slap down. Her muscular, broad shoulders and thighs give us a relatively unusual take on the objectified comics “woman” – one that projects strength and discipline, as well as intelligence and eroticism. Josie has the whole package, and if the book isn’t exactly flattering in its portrayal of men, that seems only fair, especially when considered historically.

Lady Killer also makes great use of its period design, and not just in the clothes, but in that modernist, early-1960s architecture, with its boxy furniture and grid-like room design. Jones lovingly re-creates the classic suburban bungalow, complete with concrete porch and tiki torches, and throws in wonderful period grace notes such a heavily pregnant neighbour casually smoking cigarettes while the kids play in the yard.

The book doesn’t make the mistake of making Josie’s home life seem horrible or intolerable, but certainly boring (at times) and she feels neglected by her husband, who looks forward to her going away on her little “trips”. Josie goes through the trouble of coming up with elaborate excuses to not be present at home, but her husband simply doesn’t seem to care, and says he’ll just “work on the truck” when she’s away. Their young daughters are loveable enough, not delinquents, and generally adore their mom. So, the choice of the life of a killer vs the life of stable suburban bliss is given some dramatic heft. It would have been easy (and cliched) for this book to go the whole route of “exposing” mid-century America’s social hypocrisies and faults, but instead Joelle Jones gives us a relatively accurate and sympathetic (without being too nostalgic) peek into a different age, and portrays it without any hint of hipster snark.

Lady Killer takes it place along some of the very best comics in the industry with its Eisner nomination, and for its pulpy style, appealing characters and dynamic, fantastic art, it deserves all the readership it can get.

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Independent scholar Ian Dawe has been writing for Sequart since November 2013. Before that, he had a mixed background, initially in science (Molecular Biology and Biochemistry), where he earned an MSc from Simon Fraser University and then an MA in Film from the University of Exeter in the UK. He spent a decade teaching at the college level, delivering courses in Genetics, Biochemistry, Cell Biology, Biological Anthropology and Film History. His academic work includes peer-reviewed papers on the work of Alan Moore, Harvey Pekar for Studies in Comics and a dissertation on Terry Gilliam for the University of Exeter. He has presented papers at several major academic conferences including Slayage 2014, Magus: Transdisciplinary Approaches to the Work of Alan Moore in 2010 (in the wizard's hometown of Northampton), Comics Rock and the International Conference of the Humanities in 2012, and at the Southwest Popular Culture Association Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2014 and 2015. He has contributed to several books, including a chapter about the TV show Archer in "James Bond and Popular Culture" and two chapters on Breaking Bad for "Breaking Bad and Masculinity", both now available from McFarland. At Sequart, he has authored a chapter for New Life and New Civiliations: Exploring Star Trek Comics, A Long Time Ago and two more upcoming books on Star Wars comics. He has also contributed to books on Alan Moore and 1970s Horror Comics. He is currently planning a full-length book on Better Call Saul. Ian currently lives in Vancouver, BC.

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Also by Ian Dawe:

The Cyberpunk Nexus: Exploring the Blade Runner Universe


A More Civilized Age: Exploring the Star Wars Expanded Universe


A Galaxy Far, Far Away: Exploring Star Wars Comics


A Long Time Ago: Exploring the Star Wars Cinematic Universe


New Life and New Civilizations: Exploring Star Trek Comics


1 Comment

  1. You made a lot of great points that I didn’t think about when I wrote reviews about these five issues, but I don’t agree with the idea that the art is “fantastic.” For example the first issue has a kill that looks ineffectually done due to how the weapon and her arm are positioned.

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