“#‘Lady Killer’ is the Cathartic Comic Adaptation We Sickos Desire”
Dunking Leave it to Beaver into a bucket of blood is a cathartic act. The Cleavers were a commercial for the American Dream, a fantasy that soured after the assassination of JFK and went to rot in the years following Watergate. The all-American family is a lie, a facade we slapped onto boob tubes to mask the horror festering within the national soul. Any opportunity to pick this scab and expose the wretched, wriggling cancer below is one worth consuming. Such noxious disclosure offers healing.
Lady Killer knows where the bodies are buried. They’re in unmarked graves or strapped to cement shoes at the bottom of the ocean. The Dark Horse comic, written by Jamie S. Rich and Joëlle Jones, who also provides the illustrations, is a sumptuous feast of domestic bliss stained with the bloody business that keeps our economy afloat: assassinations.
At the dark heart of the story is Josie Schuller, a picture-perfect homemaker, wife, and mother, who makes her real bones plunging butcher knives in the backs of gangsters, their associates, and whomever else her handler Mr. Peck attaches to her dance card. There might be love for her husband and daughters, but they certainly don’t occupy as much space in the story as her victims or the men who plot her moves from the safety of their desks. Josie is Dorris Day meets The Iceman, except she would never be so gauche to confess her crimes.
We meet her undercover, posing as an unassuming but assertive Avon Lady. She doesn’t so much talk her way into the home of Mrs. Roman as she does charge. While Josie is rattling off the philosophy of Avon beauty, Mrs. Roman is trying to control her dogs and keep her hair in rollers. Two page turns later, and Josie brings a hammer down on the woman’s fingers, followed shortly by a kitchen blade to the chest.
Why does Mrs. Roman have to die? There is a revelation regarding a Russian alias, but the answer honestly does not matter. The woman is a job, and Josie is happy in her work. Questions complicate, and her life is complicated enough.
The organization that hires her out is less thrilled about her double life. They appreciate how her gender gets her into spots their other agents cannot reach, but after fifteen years of a spotless record, they decide its time to punch her ticket. Mr. Peck must take responsibility for his top earner. Good luck to that guy.
Joëlle Jones relishes in perverting the golly-gee-wow consumerism of fifties shopping catalogs. Her covers spoof classic advertisements, giving a good jab to Pan Am, Bounty, and the like, while her interiors read like the wet dreams of Tyler Durden. “I want you to hit me as hard as you can.” Be careful what you wish for, Fight Club.
When discussing the possibilities of adaptation, it’s easy to suggest Killing Eve as a tonal companion to Lady Killer. The mutual obsession between intelligence investigator Eve Polastri and the murderous Villanelle somewhat mirrors the psychosexual relationship between Josie and Peck, but its the savaging of the ordinary where the two share the most in common. While there are currently only two paperback volumes of Lady Killer available, it’s easy to imagine a multi-series saga extending from the base the comics establish.
Choosing a showrunner for Lady Killer between Killing Eve‘s first season and second season bosses is an impossible decision: Phoebe Waller-Bridge vs. Emerald Fennell. If you could convince either one to join your show, you simply say “YES.” However, I’m calling the shots, and Fennell’s feature directorial debut, Promising Young Woman, is still fresh in my head from Sundance.
Our own Rob Hunter called Promising Young Woman “dark, demented, and delirious.” That’s Lady Killer. The comic swims between the horrific and the ecstatic. Lady Killer wins you over to its twisted way of thinking, where the motivations behind Josie’s actions matter less and less. You fall for her. You root for her. She’s all charm and conviction.
The penetration of flesh perpetrated by her hand is as satisfying a climax as a horror or crime series could deliver. Selling such vicious gratification comes from a balance of tone and character, and you need an actor comfortable on a razor’s edge. This feels like cheating, but I have to reach back into Promising Young Woman one more time: Carey Mulligan would make an exceptional Josie Schuller. Look, if her film seems permanently on the back burner given the pandemic, we might as well celebrate and promote where we can today.
Mulligan mastered the quiet and unassuming shadows in Drive and An Education. Whatever the narrative describes, her characters come prepackaged with still waters running deep. Then, as you see in Promising Young Woman, Mulligan controls any scene of violence or action. You’ll follow her into the murkiest of moral waters, happily incorporating her character’s purpose as your own.
For her foil, Mr. Peck, let’s keep this game of cinematic connect the dots going and select Jake Gyllenhaal, her Wildlife co-star. Gyllenhaal has a man-out-of-time quality; you can drop him into any period, and he fits snuggly. He’s also a chameleon of smarm, sussing ways to differentiate one charismatic letch from another (see the recent one-two-punch of Velvet Buzzsaw and Spider-Man: Far From Home).
Lady Killer is a nasty confection designed to curdle the stomach of those desperately clinging to the memory of a white-picket-fence America. For folks ready to kick down the fence, and upturn the graves buried beneath the foundation, Lady Killer is a devilish dessert. Pitting Mulligan against Gyllenhaal for the soul of these United States is a title match none could ignore. These Cleavers live up their name.
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