THIS REVIEW FOR ‘ASSASSINISTAS’ #6 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
By Jarrod Jones. I think one of the more fascinating things about Shelly Bond’s Black Crown imprint is how it has revealed itself as a tribute to the concept of family. Underneath its chipped fingernail polish and posturing cool is a beating heart that bleeds for its comforts. Family is what you make it after all, but in Black Crown offerings like Kid Lobotomy and Punks Not Dead family is what centers things. Makes its characters real. Future titles like House Amok and Euthanauts will feature units of folks who are either explicitly familial or as close to family as some of us ever get. But none of them can touch the batshit lunacy a family inspires more ably than Tini Howard and Gilbert Hernandez’s gonzo Assassinistas, which reaches its conclusion this week.
For the majority of Assassinistas‘ six-issue run family is either taken for granted, lauded or demonized; go figure. It spans decades to get to the root of the three lethal ladies directly (or in one instance, indirectly) responsible for the story’s present-day mayhem: Rosalyn “Blood” Diamond, Charlotte “Scarlet” Calvert and Octavia “Red October” Price, all of whom have since attempted to move on from their mercenary ways to varying degrees of success. Each have built their own families and, for the most part, have kept their violent pasts where they belong. The story is rich with history and rife with character, filled with humor and action, moxie and drama. There’s an entire world in its pages, more than what we see. And there’s a wistfulness to it that, once you’ve reached the end, will make your feelings ache.
Assassinistas jumps around in time to give us a sense of how precarious these people’s high-wire lives actually are. It goes back to the days before Octavia gave birth to son Dominic, when she was a different kind of pistol-packin’ momma, taking contracts and laying her targets low. Octavia is independent and her only touchstone is her fellow Assassinistas—at least until she meets handsome Carlos, who has a Freddie Mercury mustache and a paternal desire to settle down. Howard often gives Octavia the best lines in the series, but makes sure that her self-reliance causes plenty of friction, particularly when she takes on a case that involves her former teammates and she can only call on her put-upon son for backup. This occurs right at a crucial moment for Dominic, who’s finally grown tired of being gentle with his mother’s feelings about his life, and has decided to bring his boyfriend, Taylor, along for the ride. Think of it as a 21st Century nuclear family realized as pop art. (Rob Davis’ colors, flatted by Robin Henley, underscore that artistic verve.)
Assassinistas is illustrated by Love and Rockets‘ Gilbert Hernandez, a fixture in Bond’s career since her Vertigo days. (Perhaps most notably, Bond put Hernandez and Darwyn Cooke together for the inimitable Twilight Children mini back in 2015.) His characters are generally rail-thin paper dolls, gesticulating wildly, emoting severely. His panels often feel empty (his splash pages especially so), but the details, the drama, those are always found on his faces. He taps into the same darling energy he’s long provided in his enduring “Palomar” saga; here, people share tender moments, get pissed and scream, feel besieged by circumstances beyond their control, and Hernandez cinches every expression. If Assassinistas feels like a lived-in story, it’s because there’s history in his linework. (Even the cover to this issue is a callback to crucial comic days of yore, and family: it’s an homage to his brother Jaime’s cover to Love and Rockets #1.)
And that brings us to Tini Howard. The energy that emanates off of Assassinistas, like steam from an ice cube on a hot summer’s day, that’s all her. Her story is bombastic but it’s intimate, too, soft in places and jagged in others. Be forewarned: Euthanauts will launch Tini into the comics’ stratosphere—I’ve read issue #1, which lets fly her steel-forged thesis on life and death, prepare accordingly. Reading over Assassinistas makes me appreciate this calm before the oncoming storm; this is Tini at full-throttle, her voice unmistakable, accessible, instantly iconic, patently brilliant. People have been comparing Assassinistas to the works of Tarantino. Please. Assassinistas is its own beast, a comics series with its own style, its own attitude, its own kind of fury. Headshots and hugs. And more.
Black Crown/IDW Publishing/$3.99
Written by Tini Howard.
Art by Gilbert Hernandez.
Colors by Rob Davis.
Color flats by Robin Henley.
Letters by Aditya Bidikar.
Edited by Shelly Bond.
9 out of 10