In my job as a reviewer I read a lot of issue number ones. Like a lot, a lot. And I’m ashamed to say that the number of comics I actually follow on to number two is disappointedly small. Unfortunately between spare time and limited spare funds I really only read a couple regular comics a week and maybe revisit the exceptional # 1’s. This problem is compounded by the comics industry’s move towards more “long form” stories which means issue number 1 is rarely a complete story and often a teaser for something better. Lady Killer is one of those number 1’s that piqued my interest when I first reviewed it but I never had a chance to read the follow ups. So, with the release of the trade paperback I thought I would come back and see if the story came together. Ultimately I’m glad I checked it out, but I’m not sure if Lady Killer will have me pulling too many extra #2’s.
Lady Killer is essentially a single interesting idea that stretches a bit too thin over five issues. The prototypical mother of two from the 1950’s you’ve seen from Leave it to Beaver and Father knows Best is actually a contract killer for a shady underground organization. Can she balance life at home with a family that doesn’t know about her dark secret? Or will her assassin life take control and end in disaster for them? And that’s pretty much it for the whole run. There are some more developments in terms of plot but that single concept seems to be what’s intended to carry the first release of the book. It’s a fun concept but being that stories like The Stepford Wives and Mr. and Ms. Smith have played with similar concepts, the question is what does Lady Killer do different? And I’m not sure it does.
A lot of that problem comes from the unanswered questions regarding the protagonist. As a character, she’s not very developed. It would have been really interesting to do a story that used the trappings of 1950’s female gender roles, to hide a character with some serious depth and a dark secret. But we never get a deep understanding of the character. We never learn why she became a contract killer, or when she developed a family, or even why she is killing people at all. I’m sure all of these questions have answers and might even be answered in a future collection but I’m not sure what incentive readers have if the first five issues can’t develop the basic background/motivations for the protagonist of the series.
Without a doubt the saving grace of this comic is Joelle Jones’ art. The modern aesthetic really suits her style and adds a lot of color to the comic. All the little nods to 1950’s style, clothing, architecture and “futurism” adds a decent amount of character to a story that really needs it. I’m especially fond of the little spatters of ink and imperfections in the borders that gives the comic a worn out 1950’s vibe. The artwork is suitably gory in order to juxtapose her domestic life but I do feel like it could be a hair more gory if they really wanted to shock the reader. However, given the impeccable taste of the rest of the comic, I can’t really fault if they were avoiding some kind of “mature audiences only” tag.
Overall I feel I’ve been too hard on Lady Killer because I would recommend it. Ultimately the fact I’ve been so hard on it isn’t because it’s bad but because so much in it is good but not noteworthy. It never really goes beyond the original premise to show us something new.
It’s a violent comic but it’s not ultra-violent. It’s a funny comic but it’s not hilarious. It’s got character moments but none of the characters are that deep. I’m still not really sure what the comic is trying to do. Lady Killer gets a recommendation for strong art and a fun premise but ultimately it’s a bit of a reminder that comics really need to focus on getting a single story out.
I’m sure the authors have all the intentions in the world of fleshing out this character and her world, but if they can’t start that work in five issues, they can’t count on me to be there to read it.
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Do you think comics are failing to tell “complete” stories in their initial issues?
How many issues of a story are you willing to buy before you’ve decided if you like it?