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Review – Lady Killer TP (Dark Horse/Turnaround)

Issue #1 cover - CLICK TO ENLARGE

Issue #1 cover – CLICK TO ENLARGE

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer(s): Joëlle Jones, Jamie S. Rich
Artist: Joëlle Jones
Release Date: 2nd September, 2015


ISSUE #1

The first issue of Dark Horse’s Lady Killer introduces us to Josie Schuller, your prototypical 60’s housewife. She loves her family, takes care of her home, and – when she’s not doing that – spends her free time pursuing contracts as a government assassin. Yeah, you heard me.

The brainchild of creator Joëlle Jones, this new series gets off to a flying start here, striking the perfect balance between humour and violence, instantly drawing us into Josie’s world in the process. For the time being, Joëlle is playing her cards very close to her chest in terms of any ‘big picture’ stuff, but we do get to see Josie in action here and are introduced to her family – both personal and professional – before watching her launch headlong into her next mission.

There’s something uniquely appealing about the contrast in styles that’s going on here, with the saccharine-sweet, whiter-than-white world of the early 60’s being juxtaposed with the brutal reality of the hitman (or hitwoman, in this case). Jones clearly takes great pleasure in playing around with this, having Josie switch from ice-cold – if slightly unlucky – killer to doting housewife at the turn of a page, and throwing in several great visual flourishes along the way to enhance this transformation.

Jamie S. Rich provides polish to the dialogue here, and it definitely flows smoothly throughout, from Josie’s earnest ‘Avon Lady’ routine during her opening contract to the flirtatious, innuendo-laden exchange with her handler Peck later in the issue. There’s a lot to like here, and with the cast of characters being kept relatively small, each of the key players gets ample opportunity to shine. This is still undoubtedly Josie Schuller’s show however, and while the chain of events that led her into this world remains unexplained, she remains an extremely engaging protagonist.

Overall, while it isn’t clear yet exactly where the rest of this five-part story is heading, this is still an impressively strong opening chapter. A brilliantly unique idea executed with a delicious visual flair, Lady Killer is a series you owe it to yourself to pick up.


ISSUE #2

Issue #2 cover - CLICK TO ENLARGE

Issue #2 cover – CLICK TO ENLARGE

The second issue of Dark Horse’s Lady Killer follows a lot of the same storyline beats as the first, which, to be clear, is definitely no bad thing. We get to see Josie in action again here, watching her effortlessly switching from doe-eyed ‘kitty-cat’ waitress to lithe, athletic killing machine with a subtle flick of artist Joëlle Jones’ pen.  Josie’s handler Peck once again shows up midway through the issue to inject a little innuendo to the proceedings, and we’re also given a brief glimpse into Josie’s hectic (but comparatively straightforward) life as a homemaker and mother.

The big difference between this issue and the first is that we finally get to find out a little more about the organisation that employs Josie during a tense, face-to-face meeting with her boss, Stenholm. Jones and Rich push the story forwards in a shockingly unexpected way, and the conversation between Josie and Stenholm goes a long way towards highlighting the stark contrast between the restrained, caring, ‘family’ Josie and her coldly professional façade as she more than holds her own against her glaring, square-jawed employer. This is no subservient housewife cliché, folks – Josie Schuller is one strong, confident and highly-motivated woman.

There’s also something utterly compelling about the character design of Josie herself. Her subtle facial expressions and angular, almost feline features combine beautifully with Jones’ gift for capturing the distinctive design and ‘feel’ of the early 60’s to give this series a visual aesthetic that’s truly like nothing else on the shelves right now. The dialogue – once again given a little extra polish here by accomplished writer Jamie S. Rich – is undoubtedly sharp, but there’s still the faint feeling that Jones is perhaps holding back just a little, still keeping those cards clutched tightly to her chest. The story does seem to be opening up a little though, and after speaking to both creators, I have absolutely no doubt that there’s definitely a ‘bigger picture’ on the horizon.

Overall, the second instalment of Lady Killer capitalises perfectly on the momentum built by the first, drawing us deeper and deeper into the complicated life of Josie Schuller, and serving as a stunning showcase for the creative abilities of Joëlle Jones. A darkly comic take on the saccharine world of the early 60’s housewife, and a series that – judging by the nature of Josie’s next mission – promises to become even darker before all’s said and done. Well worth a look.


ISSUE #3

Issue #3 cover - CLICK TO ENLARGE

Issue #3 cover – CLICK TO ENLARGE

After two issues of gloriously rendered scene-setting, we finally get to the real meat of Joëlle Jones’ Lady Killer. The previous chapters have introduced us to Josie Schuller, doting housewife slash contract killer, and in spite of a few unlucky stumbles along the way, Josie has always been presented as a strong, confident, unflappable woman. Well, in this issue, as she faces perhaps her toughest assignment yet, we finally see the cracks beginning to form in Josie’s world, as well as witnessing the first outpouring of any sort of genuine emotion from her – an aspect of her character which has, in my opinion, been notably absent.

As always, Jones’ artwork is stunning in its stylised simplicity, with the early 60’s furniture and fashion all beautifully recreated, and Josie’s measured, almost feline facial expressions propelling the story forwards. The main characters are all striking and distinctive in their own way, and each has been slightly over-exaggerated without them turning into caricatures. From her devilishly handsome, squared-jawed handler Peck to her growling, Regan-esque boss Stenholm, to her menacingly disapproving mother in law, every visual nuance of the characters in Lady Killer hits the mark perfectly.

The writing remains solid throughout, with Josie’s aforementioned emotional breakdown adding some much needed depth to her character. Peck gets a little extra development here too, his character momentarily slipping from flirtatious, innuendo-driven Lothario into something actually genuine – even if only for a second. In spite of the somewhat ‘out there’ premise, this is a story which is being kept relatively simple by Jones and co-writer Jamie S. Rich. The cast of characters is tight and focused, and the twists and turns are kept to a bare minimum, preventing the reader from ever having to play catch-up. That said, the events of the final few pages of this issue certainly yank the wheel, sending the story careening off into an unexpected new direction, and I’m more than happy to admit that I still have absolutely no idea where this one is ultimately heading.

Overall, while it may have made its mark with its stunning visuals and sharply conceived concept, Lady Killer is finally starting to hit its stride in terms of the story itself, and promises a tense, emotional conclusion before all’s said and done. Over the course of this one issue, leading lady Josie Schuller has gone from intriguing enigma to genuinely compelling protagonist, and I’m most definitely going to be waiting with baited breath to find out what happens to her next.


ISSUE #4

Issue #4 cover - CLICK TO ENLARGE

Issue #4 cover – CLICK TO ENLARGE

With the previous issue ramping up the pace a little – as well as injecting some much-needed emotion to the proceedings – this penultimate instalment of Joëlle Jones and Jamie S Rich’s 60’s serial killer chic series kicks things into a whole new gear as Josie Schuller finds her perfectly crafted world crumbling down around her, becoming the target of the very same organisation she previously killed for. Now, I’m not exactly sure if ‘60’s serial killer chic’ was even a genre before, but all I can do is thank the creative team behind this book for making it happen, because Lady Killer is the beautiful, violent genre mash-up we’ve all been waiting for – even if we didn’t realise it until now.

Once again, Joëlle Jones’ distinctly stylized artwork gives the book a vibrant aesthetic that perfectly captures the fashion and feel of the early 60’s. The contrast between the ‘fresh from the catwalk’ look of some of the main characters and the stark, brutal violence contained within these pages give this series its unique selling point, but there’s so much more going on within these pages than simply housewife homicide. That said, there’s still no disputing just how visually stunning the book is, with Jones fully embracing the striking fashion of the era, mixing it up with some truly dark moments along the way.

As beautiful as the artwork is, this is a story that was only ever going to be as good as its leading lady, and thankfully Josie Schuller remains an utterly fascinating protagonist throughout. Striking a curious balance between loving mother and cold-blooded killer, her strength and determination in the face of her male-dominated environment (both in terms of the decade she’s living in and the ‘occupation’ she has chosen for herself) is difficult not to feel inspired by, and watching her life gradually unravelling as a result of her moral compass makes for truly riveting reading. Also admirable is her ingenuity throughout this series; constantly adaptable when things don’t go according to plan, and able to utilise her surroundings to her advantage – something which is displayed beautifully here in her inspired use of the local neighbourhood ‘curtain-twitcher’ as an extremely useful asset.

Brilliantly paced, gloriously rendered and utterly empowering, Lady Killer takes a refreshing look at the era of the quiet, subservient housewife and throws in some shockingly brutal violence for good measure. Featuring slick dialogue, engaging characters and a slow build to what promises to be a show-stopping conclusion, I honestly can’t recommend this series highly enough.


ISSUE #5

Issue #5 cover - CLICK TO ENLARGE

Issue #5 cover – CLICK TO ENLARGE

In the climactic issue of Dark Horse Comics’ Lady Killer, writer slash artist Joelle Jones ramps up the violence to stomach-churning levels as housewife assassin Josie Schuller enacts her decisive plan to beat her duplicitous employers to the punch. A worthy conclusion to what has been an utterly engaging story, this issue features some of the most shocking brutality that we’ve seen in the series so far. This isn’t the same bumbling, clumsy Josie trying to slip poison into her victim’s tea that we saw in the first issue, but rather an intensely focused alpha female doing everything in her power to project herself and her family.

Once again it’s the visuals that tie the whole story together here, with Jones’ typically stylish work adopting a more grimy, visceral approach as the stakes are raised significantly. Her ultra-distinctive ‘killer chic’ look is still firmly on display however as Josie’s showdown with her employers gets physical, with flashes of stocking tops aplenty amidst the blades, bullets and blood.

Impressively, Jones and co-writer Jamie S. Rich manage to end things here with an impressively satisfying conclusion, something of a rarity in four or five-part stories, many of which end up feeling rushed or unfinished. While they’re careful to leave things pleasingly open-ended, the pair still manage to wrap things up tidily here, meaning that if this is the last we see of Josie Schuller – and I damn well hope it isn’t – it will serve as a pretty fitting parting shot.

One of my absolute favourite titles of 2015 so far, Lady Killer has been an utterly captivating read from start to finish, both in terms of concept and execution, and has carved out a bold new ‘housewife assassin’ genre all of its own. Joelle Jones is undeniably a star on the rise, and I only hope that she decides to revisit the world of Josie Schuller sooner rather than later. Regardless, whatever she does choose to put her impressive talent to next, you can definitely count me in. An utterly unmissable series.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5.


[PREVIEW ARTWORK – CLICK TO ENLARGE]


You can purchase Lady Killer TP from Turnaround Publisher Services (who generously provided the review copy of this title) via their official website.


The writer of this piece was: 576682_510764502303144_947146289_nCraig Neilson-Adams (aka Ceej)
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