Thursday, August 17, 2023

Assassinistas by Tini Howard and Gilbert Hernandez

The title doesn't have an exclamation point. I know: it surprises me, too. Maybe it wouldn't go full-bore Spanish-style, with an upside-down bang to begin the title - though I could see that as well - but surely it needs at least one, doesn't it?

No, I guess it doesn't, since it doesn't get one.

Assassinistas is a 2018 joint by writer Tini Howard - best known for going exclusive with Marvel on X-books and other stuff since then - and Gilbert Hernandez - best known for doing vastly more work than anyone expects and turning up doing really odd things like drawing someone else's script for a pulpy adventure about a team of female assassins.

This is, not to be too reductive about it, a Quentin Tarantino film put to paper - well, maybe not exactly Tarantino, since Howard and Hernandez don't replicate his love for feet or other specific quirks - but definitely a modern, self-aware, Tarantino-esque cinematic adventure story.

I have no idea if this was originally pitched as something that would or could be made into a movie. That seems plausible to me, and comics have tended in that way really strongly for most of the 21st century, so call it a maybe. I'm sure no one would mind if Hollywood backed their money truck up to Assassinistas HQ and started shoveling out the simoleons.

Anyway, this is a high-concept, low-plausibility thing: it's supposed to be fun and zippy and entertaining, the kind of movie that's always accompanied by a suggestion to "turn your brain off." It takes place in two deliberately vague time periods, "Then" (if I had a gun to my head, I'd say the late '70s, but I said "deliberately vague" and I meant it) and "Now-ish" (roughly twenty years after Then, and also basically the time the story came out, which is not chronologically consistent, but everyone knows that).

There was a team of assassins then - Charlotte "Scarlet" La Costa, the blonde; Octavia "Red October" Price, the Black one; and Rosalyn "Blood" Diamond, the one who always wore a mask (and, also, was Asian, because a team of three people in a big dumb Hollywood story is required to break down into specific demographics). It's not clear how they became highly-paid international assassins; it seems to be just the kind of thing that happens, just another high-paying job with stress and specific equipment and all that.

They were recruited into a cult from a punk club, in what seem to be their late teens. Their guru was caught, somehow, and jailed for a long time. Somehow this led, we're expected to believe, to their assassination careers. Sure, why not? When you're a Manson Girl suddenly alone in the world, why not turn to murdering millionaires for pay?

The details of the assassinations is left vague in a way that maximizes the chances readers will be at least mildly positive: we see them killing capitalists, mostly, and if we're OK with assassins to begin with that seems reasonable.

Most of the story is set "Now-ish," though - the Then sections are flashbacks for pathos and eyeball kicks and to let the eventual movie cast two women in each role, one young and one seasoned. When we're "Now-ish," the team has long been broken up; they all went straight and Roslyn has been incommunicado for a long time.

Octavia has a son in college, Dominic. Charlotte has a toddler, Kyler, and another baby on the way. Yes, this is a "the next generation" story: Dom is pulled in when his mother has an unexpected situation that demands her old skills, and he brings along his new-ish college boyfriend Taylor. (Yes: we also get "Mom, I'm gay!" drama. It's handled well; no need to cringe.)

OK: Rosalyn has kidnapped Kyler, for no obvious reason. Octavia, who now sells kidnapping insurance, has just sold a policy to her old teammate Charlotte, who is pissed at her son being kidnanapped in general and in particular at the timing, which seems fishy. (It is not. There are twists, but only minor ones built into the premise. This is a turn-off-your-brain story.)

So Octavia, Dom, and Taylor gear up and set off to find and retrieve Kyler. We are not meant to question if this is how the insurance Octavia sells usually works; it can't be, right? We are also not meant to think "assassination and kidnapping retrieval have some things in common, sure, but they're radically disjoint skill sets". We are not meant to think; we are meant to go "Yay! Now the ultraviolence starts!"

It's bloodless ultraviolence, though, since Rosalyn has an army of robot goons - dressed identically to her, for maximum confusion. But the whole cast comes together at the end, after quite a lot of running around and flashbacks and firing guns and ambushes - including Dom's father, who was a supplementary Assassinista, more or less, back in the day.

And, of course, it is all about the new generation: if that seems to be missing in any particular family, refer to my note about about twists and their obviousness. We end Hollywood-style, with the main cast solidified in their roles and available for sequels. Hoorah!

This is professional and fun and enjoyable and not something I could take seriously for more than a page or two at a time. But it's not meant to be taken seriously, so that's just fine.

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