Action stories don’t usually traffic in complicated, nuanced family dynamics, but Assassinistas is aiming to do something different with the genre. Announced today at San Diego Comic-Con, Assassinistas is debuting as part of Black Crown, the new creator-owned IDW imprint from former Vertigo editor Shelly Bond, and takes a deeply personal approach to the familiar story of a professional killer forced out of retirement. Written by Tini Howard, a rising star who has done exceptional work on established properties like Power Rangers and The Magdalena, this series doesn’t shy away from the complexities of its characters, exploring how their careers affect their relationships with friends and family.
“I wrote a short story years ago, just for myself, about an assassin and her adult son, and the ways in which her job kept them from really connecting,” says Howard. “It was the first incarnation of Octavia and Dominic, our protagonists. I developed a deep love of the characters—I just wasn’t ready to let them go. They went through a lot of potential “AUs” in my head before they came back to their roots—a sort of cinematic-style world that operates under nebulous action-movie laws. I have a real thing about women aging in media—I addressed it in my run on Magdalena and I wanted to keep addressing it here. And I’m obsessed with the relationship between Sarah and John Connor, and all the ways in which the Terminator franchise almost has something great there, but does it a real disservice. So I wanted to have a mother and son team.”
“We have three women we’re meeting years after their ‘action-movie prime’—years after they’ve stopped operating under the laws of guns’n‘girls and started doing things like growing up, having children, getting ‘real’ jobs. But of course, that world doesn’t leave them behind, which is what gets things rolling. Meanwhile, Dominic and his boyfriend Taylor are just trying to have a normal college life. And Dominic’s trying to unravel his relationship with his mom. So it’s little bit The Expendables, a little bit Fun Home.”
Howard had the building blocks for a comic book, but it wasn’t until artist Gilbert Hernandez came on board that she saw how to put them together. “As you might be able to tell from that Expendables meets Fun Home answer, I had a really hard time nailing the tone of this book,” says Howard. “I never go out with a tone in mind, I go out with elements that are important to me in mind, and that’s where working with a legendary editor like Shelly Bond helps a lot—she’s a master at determining clarity of purpose, helping me to figure out what I’m actually trying to say when I’m saying eleven things at once. And I need that. I have that kind of mind.”
“So when she casually threw out Gilbert’s name, I froze. Because it didn’t seem possible, but the issue was that now the tone of the book was perfect to me. I could instantly see everyone in Gilbert’s style, and the book had this sense of cool that I just could not bring to it. But now I had this problem that I had nailed the book down as a “Gilbert Hernandez book.” And if we weren’t able to get Gilbert I was going to be a real stickler for wanting to find someone that could nail that tone, which would be a disservice to whatever artist wasn’t Gilbert that I was theoretically going to end up working with. And then we got Gilbert and honestly now I see pages all the time and the book is announced and we’ve spoken on the phone and I still don’t believe this is happening. It’s amazing. Gilbert’s a legend. He knows I feel this way, but I tell him every chance I get.”
Hernandez is used to working solo, from his regular output in Love And Rockets to his steady stream of miniseries and graphic novels for publishers like Dark Horse Comics, Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, and Shelly Bond’s Vertigo. But being part of a team is forcing him to change his storytelling. “I’m always looking to improvise anytime I draw a comic, but this time I strive to have self-discipline,” says Hernandez. “To get what the writer wants on the page as accurately as I can muster.” He came up in comics during the height of punk rock, but when asked about what excites him most about Assassinistas, Hernandez revealed a fascination with punk’s nemesis: “Oddly enough it’s the roller disco era that is so prominent in the story. It’s something I have no interest in, but it’s become interesting as I put it on the page.”
Joined by colorist Rob Davis and letter Aditya Bidikar, Howard and Hernandez have come up with a compelling new take on the reformed assassin tale, and pairing a veteran artist with a promising up-and-coming writer is an inspired editorial decision. Hernandez has a lot that he can teach his collaborator, and Howard has a fresh voice that will benefit from an artist with refined storytelling skills and a distinct style. Readers can enter this world of maternal killers and roller disco when Assassinistas goes on sale in December, and they’ll want to keep an eye out on the rest of the Black Crown titles announced at San Diego Comic-Con this week.