Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer(s): Joelle Jones, Jamie S Rich (vol 1)
Artwork: Joelle Jones
Colours: , Laura Allred (vol 1), Michelle Madsen (vol 2)
Release Date: 10th June 2020
Originally released in two volumes between 2015 and 2017, Dark Horse’s Lady Killer introduced us to Josie Schuller, your prototypical 1950s housewife. She loves her family, takes care of her home, and when she’s not doing that, she spends her free time killing people as a government assassin.
Yeah, you heard me.
The brainchild of Joelle Jones, the series earned itself a Best Limited Series nomination at the 2016 Eisner Awards, with Jones nabbing a pair of nominations (Best Penciller/Inker and Best Cover Artist for those keeping score at home) for herself into the bargain. And now, to celebrate what may very well be one of my favourite comics of the decade, Dark Horse are releasing a special oversized hardcover collection featuring both volumes alongside sketchbooks and a plethora of previously unpublished artwork.
The first volume sets the table right from the get-go with a scintillating opening sequence which sees Josie posing as an Avon Lady to take out her latest target. There’s something uniquely appealing about the contrast in styles, with the saccharine-sweet, whiter-than-white world of the 1950s being juxtaposed with the brutal reality of the assassin’s life. Jones clearly takes great pleasure in playing around with this throughout the course of the series, 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.
Former DC Vertigo editor Jamie S. Rich provides some polish to the dialogue during this first volume, and it definitely flows smoothly throughout, from Josie’s aforementioned earnest ‘Avon Lady’ routine contract to the flirtatious, innuendo-laden exchange with her handler Peck. Wisely, Jones opts to keep her cast of characters relatively small, with each of the key players getting 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 as the organisation she works for gradually starts to turn against her.
The second volume expands the world as Josie goes into business for herself, being forced to rely on aging hitman and professional “cleaner” Irving to help her in her endeavours, a decision which places her fragile domestic life, and the lives of her husband and children, in grave danger.
Jones’ distinctive stylized artwork gives the book a vibrant aesthetic which perfectly captures the fashion and feel of the 1950s. As I mentioned, the contrast between the ‘fresh from the catwalk’ look of some of the main characters and the stark, brutal violence contained within these pages gives this series its unique selling point, but there’s so much more going on here than simply gratuitous housewife homicide.
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 this era to give this series a visual style which is truly mesmerising. It also doesn’t hurt things when you have two absolute masters of the craft, Laura Allred and Michelle Madsen, bringing Jones’ pencils and inks to life with their rich colours throughout the course of both volumes.
The rest of the main characters are all striking and distinctive in their own way, and each has been slightly over-exaggerated without going the whole hog and them turning into caricatures. From her devilishly handsome, squared-jawed handler Peck to her growling, Regan-esque boss Stenholm, to her stern, disapproving mother in law, to the gradually escalating menace of Irving, every visual nuance every single character in this series hits the mark perfectly.
Brilliantly paced, gloriously rendered, shockingly violent 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 a show-stopping conclusion, I honestly can’t recommend this series highly enough, and this new oversized library edition is more than worth a look if you missed out on this absolute gem the first time around.
[PREVIEW ARTWORK – CLICK TO ENLARGE]