Lady Killer is a clever feminist twist on a “secret assassin” plot, with a cool retro overlay. The first arc is now available in collected format.
The titular Lady Killer is Josie Schuller, a model early ‘60s housewife in Seattle. Josie keeps a pristine suburban house for her pleasant but doltishly clueless husband, two cute daughters and hostile German immigrant mother-in-law. The façade of her life suggests a mix of Jackie Kennedy and The Stepford Wives.
Under the surface, however, Josie is an assassin in the employ of a shadowy agency suggested to be tied to the U.S. Government. She bristles at the demands of her rakish handler, Peck. When the agency comes to believe that Josie’s family life compromises her work, Peck is ordered to take out Josie. Josie and another female assassin turn the tables on the agency, culminating in a bloody showdown at the Seattle World’s Fair.
Lady Killer is the brainchild of writer/artist Joëlle Jones, co-writing with Jamie S. Rich. Jones and Rich come up with an inspired homage/send-up that makes excellent use of its mid-century domestic trappings as a sharp contrast to Josie’s secret life. The story demonstrates how Josie leverages the expectations of a pretty young woman to her advantage, whether gaining access to a target’s home by masquerading as the Avon Lady or going undercover as a Playboy-esque waitress to get close to a well-guarded mark.
For all the secrets that Josie keeps, she makes a strong impression. Jones and Rich have a strong bead on their anti-heroine and the contradictory bits of Josie’s nature always seem to make perfect sense. They don’t overwrite Josie, either, relying on some well-crafted moments to communicate a lot about this complex woman. The writers funnel the cultural attitudes of the era quite cannily and demonstrate Josie’s ingenuity and resourcefulness in rather creative ways. They also come up with a rather neat twist on the “monster-in-law” trope that radically changes Josie’s relationship with her husband’s disapproving mother by the end of the arc.
As good as the writing is, Lady Killer really soars thanks to absolutely gorgeous art. Jones (working with ace colorist Laura Allred) captures a very stylish, retro flair that give the book a distinctive identity. Her angular, fluid style and innovative layouts keep the action humming. Jones doesn’t shy away from the more brutal aspects of the concept, but the contrast with the soft haze of early ‘60s middle class prosperity adds a lot of thematic weight. Allred makes some really smart color choices, using occasional bursts of bright reds to set off the tasteful pastels that frame Josie’s day-to-day life. The panels are packed with smart details and bits of inspiration that give Lady Killer visuals that match and often exceed the strength of its narrative. For those unfamiliar with Jones’s prior work, this announces her as a true auteur.
Lady Killer is a great book that demonstrates the versatility of the graphic medium. Mystery fans are well advised to seek this out.
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on September 4, 2015.