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Review: Assassinistas #1

In Assassinistas #1, writer Tini Howard, artist/Eisner Hall-of-Famer Gilbert Hernandez, and colorist Rob Davis weave the tale of a retired assassin named Octavia “Red October” Price, who gets back in the game one last time to rescue her friend/former colleague Scarlet’s baby from the third member of their crew, the enigmatic, dagger wielding Blood Diamond. And tagging along is her college aged son Dominic and his boyfriend Taylor, who are taking a kind of gap semester as her “interns”.

Howard and Hernandez’s approach to storytelling is economic, yet entertaining as they introduce the three “assassinistas” to the reader in a quick three page sequence ending in a posterworthy splash page of Red October, Scarlet, and Diamond causing mayhem for various corporate types. Howard swings nicely from past and present and uses the flashbacks to introduce relevant parts of the story like Dominic’s dad, and how even though she has a house and a son in college, Octavia still hasn’t completely said goodbye to her action-packed lifestyle unlike Scarlet, who is kind of the perfect health conscious young mother. She foreshadows this with some nice banter about Octavia’s theoretical wedding, including a grenade pin ring and “Xanadu” as a wedding march. The plot of Assassinistas is pretty tense, but Howard and Hernandez keep things tongue in cheek.

Tini Howard and Gilbert Hernandez also do an excellent job of making both Dominic and Taylor fully realized characters and not just comic relief or victims. Dominic gets about as many story pages as his mom, and Hernandez shows the adorableness of his relationship with Taylor in an extended cuddle scene that is the opposite of the violent cold open or his mom’s house littered with all kinds of weapon and body armor even though she technically works in insurance.  He’s just a college kid who misses his boyfriend and wants to have a normal life away from his mom, who he cares for very much. Letterer Aditya Bitika crafts dueling word balloons that work well with Hernandez’s six panel grids as Dominic gets kind of let down by his mom when she doesn’t pay his tuition or room and board, and he’s unceremoniously thrown out of his dorm on the first day of classes. The facial expressions are subdued, and Howard doesn’t up the melodrama level, but this isn’t really what Dominic had planned for the semester. However, Taylor is way into his mom being an assassin, and their physical closeness combined with their honest, easy rapport makes their relationship the strongest of the series so far.

I really liked how Tini Howard and Gilbert Hernandez handled the awkwardness of Dominic telling his mom about his boyfriend. Octavia isn’t overtly homophobic or anything, but Dominic does a little nod thing when she asks if he’s with a girlfriend and automatically assumes that his romantic partner is female when he talks about bringing someone along to help them on their mission. However, she doesn’t make a big deal about Taylor when he shows up at her house and immediately throws a bulletproof vest in his face because it looks like Assassinistas #2 will be the action issue. But it’s nice to have an issue to establish the character’s relationships and quirks before Octavia channels her inner Pam Grier.

Gilbert Hernandez’s art is one of a kind, Tini Howard combines domestic drama with grindhouse film thrills a la a  the opening scene of Kill Bill Vol. 1, and Rob Davis’ colors are brash and bold. Assassinistas #1 is the tasty comic book dessert you deserve for getting through 2017, and it’s cool to see a genre comic centered around a mother/son relationship that deals with both big guns and pointy weapons as well as finances and bringing your boyfriend to see mom for the first time.

Story: Tini Howard Art: Gilbert Hernandez Colors: Rob Davis
Story: 9 Art: 9.5 Overall: 9.3 Recommendation: Buy

IDW/Black Crown provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review