Poor Dominic. All he wants to do is have good quality cuddle time with his boyfriend and take that sought-after business ethics class. But his mom Octavia forgot to pay tuition, so he's effectively kicked out of college. Mom suggests a semester abroad, and Dominic reluctantly agrees. Did we mention Mom's a retired bounty hunter called into the field for what may be one last job? Welcome to Assassinistas, Black Crown's family spy story by Tini Howard (The Skeptics, Rick and Morty), Gilbert Hernandez (Love and Rockets), and Rob Davis.
After several years on the run with her fellow hunters Charlotte and Roz, Octavia seems to have settled into a quiet life in suburbia. She meets a man at the roller rink, falls in love, has a son, and sells insurance (albeit kidnapping insurance, which is apparently a thing for very rich people). Her fellow bounty hunter Charlotte finds new comforts in motherhood and media consulting, but fears her son Kyler is a target for a kidnapping. Mother's intuition is right—Kyler is pulled from his bed one evening, which brings Octavia back into the fold (the money also helps). But she's working this one alone (Charlotte is several months pregnant and their fellow bounty hunter Roz is nowhere to be found), so mama's gonna need some help. Enter her son Dominic, who thought junior year would be easy peasy but then Mom forgot to pay the tuition. Mom suggests a semester sabbatical abroad—just not backpacking through Europe or Asia.
Tini Howard brings the wit and slapstick humor she brings to Rick and Morty to this new series, along with a side of 70s blaxploitation influences. It reads as a second chapter in the Foxy Brown universe, and is full of fun. This debut issue is pure introduction, switching between present day and the late 1970s to introduce you to our bounty hunting trio and their families, and how they got to their current predicament. The queer experience is handled beautifully and integrated seamlessly into the story. Octavia's a woke mom; not batting an eyelash that her son's paramour Taylor is a he and not a she—just annoyed that she didn't tell him in advance a partner was coming along because now she's not sure if her spare bulletproof vest will fit. And while Assassinistas pays homage to the Shaft and other blaxploitation films before it, there's not a whit of stereotype throughout.
Glibert Hernandez of Love and Rockets fame carries over his style from that series into this one, but makes it his own. Everything is still very flat and two-dimensional, but there's some subtle depth and texture, enough to make the art stand out so you don't feel like you're reading a Love and Rockets book. Rob Davis certainly knows his late 1970s/early 1980s palette for the flashback scenes; they're bright and bold with a mix of earth tones, perfect for this transitional era of women's liberation leading into the decade of excess. For present day, pastels and black power suits abound.
I wish this book was longer, perhaps a double issue to start. The main thread of the narrative (the kidnapping) doesn't enter until the final pages of the book. While it makes sense for a debut issue to spend time on character development, there's too much in quantity (about 3/4 of this book) and not enough in quality—people we are going to need to get to know don't have the depth in that development that is necessary. Why does Charlotte want kidnapping insurance, for example? Was there a threat on her son's life, or is she just a paranoid parent spending too much time reading mommy blogs? Kyler's kidnapper looks suspiciously like the red-headed Roz. What could turn one bounty hunter against her sisters? We do have five more issues to find out these questions, but with the action packed plot that we're teased, I fear that these queries deserve an answer now, not rushed somewhere in issue #4 or #5.
If your New Year's resolution is to read more diverse comics, Assassinistas will help you do that, and you'll have fun along the way. It might be, as the great intellectual Lin-Manuel Miranda writes, One Last Time, for these ladies, but it's sure going to be a memorable one.