Assassins, missing children, and the soul-crushing nature of settling into a “normal,” unadventurous life? Sounds like a normal day in the life of Black Crown’s newest series, “Assassinistas.” Join me as I take a look at this strange yet familiar story and, be warned, you might just encounter some spoilers.
Written by Tini Howard
Illustrated by Gilbert Hernandez
Colored by Rob Davis
Lettered by Aditya Bidikar
Dominic Prince and the Semester Abroad, Part 1 of 6.
Dominic Price is a college-age kid who just wants to spend the semester making out with his boyfriend, Taylor, in between rounds of TurboLight Fighter and maintaining a solidly passable 3.2 GPA. His mom, Octavia, formerly a badass action-movie-quality bounty hunter, didn’t pay his tuition, because she had to get back in the business and spend 40K on black market weapons and body armor. And she’s bringing Dominic with her, because the alternative is making lattes for a semester, and he’d rather die. Good thing in mom’s line of work, dying is an option.
“Assassanistas” starts its story off in the past, introducing us to the three titular Assassinsitas goofing off in a hotel room, getting ready to party and by party, I mean kill a bunch of people. It’s a clean opening, quickly establishing the personalities of Charlotte, Octavia, and Rosalyn as well as the dynamic of the group before all that is thrown to the wind in favor of the present action.
I’m of two minds with this first issue. On one hand, it is a very strong start to a series that feels more like a Fantagraphics book than an IDW or Vertigo title. On the other hand, it is a very different book than the cover, as well as the previews, made it seem. It is also way too short of an issue, feeling like the first half of an opening instead of the full first issue. We get glimpses into the very interesting past but are stuck, for the most part, in the present-ish, which is honestly kind of boring.
My problem with the present action isn’t any of the actual events or characters but the fact that we were given too little of the Assassinistas in their prime before the switch-over happened. I want to watch them do their jobs. I want to know more about why they do it, how they do it, how long they’d been doing it and, most of all, I want to see the three of them interact more.
Tini Howard brings a life to these character’s dialogue that I could read all day long and, while that liveliness doesn’t carry over into the present, that’s because the characters are no longer friends in the same way. They have changed, been worn down by age and families and financial instability. I can’t fault the comic for my lack of enjoyment because when you go from the high octane, assassin story to the realistic struggles of having to give up the past in favor of the “normal” world, there is going to be a huge shift in tone.
Despite all my griping about the present, there is a magic to this comic that comes through in Hernandez’s art. While I am not the biggest fan of his style, there is no denying that he is a talented artist. His art, while very flat in appearance, never feels flat. Every character looks and feels unique, expressive, and instantly recognizable; I never have the feeling that I’m going to confuse two characters with each other (something that I encounter more often than I should).
He knows how to balance environment with characters, making each panel contain just enough detail to make each page flow while also not overloading them. The details all are important to convey the setting, mood, and characteristics of the people in the scenes. Take the first panel of the comic.
It’s an establishing panel, a bit smaller than a quarter of the page. It shows what appears to be some sort of party as there are some dirty clothes on the floor, what at first appears to be a blood stain, as well as, on the table, a pizza box, an empty bottle of wine and two corks. The dialogue “What have you done?” preps us, based on our own assumptions due to the title of the comic, to assume one of the assassins have botched a kill.Continued below
But, that isn’t the case, and the next panel recontextualizes this, showing Roz and Octavia in a relaxed state, Roz washing her newly dyed hair in the sink and Octavia berating her for spilling the hair dye. Because of this, the first panels is able to tell us all about how they’re living as well as how they treat their job. In this one panel, Hernandez sets the scene for Octavia, Charlotte, and Rozalyn, letting us know they are messy, that Rozalyn can be careless, and that this is just another day at the office, instead of some high-stress, hyper-secret, “serious” assignment.
This is such a strong start to the comic and it successfully hooked me in. However, as I said before, this doesn’t last and while Hernandez’s art and composition never falters and Howard’s dialogue is perfectly reflective of the characters in the different states of their lives, the actual story just isn’t interesting enough yet. Add onto that some clarity issues around Octavia’s job (what does kidnapping insurance actually entail and did Charlotte actually want to hire her before Kyler got kidnapped?) and Octavia’s son and his boyfriend, both of whom who don’t have many characteristics beyond devoted boyfriends, that seem to be the actual main characters and you can see why there might be some stumbling blocks.
On that point, if the solicit is to be believed and if the comic’s own spotlight is to be believed, we need more time to get to know Dominic and his home life before being asked to sympathize with his worries about his family. It all felt too rushed and, as I said earlier, this comic really could have benefited from being longer.
That being said, this comic has engaged me, getting me to ask questions that are built into the narrative instead of ones that have arisen from frustration and confusion. Hernandez and Howard have crafted something that, while flawed, feels like something that has a lot more going on under the surface and hopefully we will get more of the interesting bits in order to offset the well-constructed but “normal” present.
Final Verdict: 7.8 – A Fantagraphics book at IDW, essentially. Read that however you believe it should be read.