Dark Horse’s Lady Killer Stands Out Among The Atomic Housewife Trope

Joelle Jones and James S. Rich created a mid-century modern housewife who is secretly a ruthless assassin in the Dark Horse Comics miniseries: Lady Killer (2015). Modeled after the 1950s “Atomic Housewife,” Josie Schuller has style, grace, and a talent for terminating her targets. Even while fretting over her husband’s supper in a hot kitchen, she remains gorgeously groomed and ready to tackle it all in one day. Joelle Jones’ artwork is part of the magic, turning the hired killer into an enchanting leading lady.

Other writers have played with similar situational irony, but none have created a character as captivating. Lady Killer’s unique take on the “Atomic Housewife” has even landed it an upcoming Netflix film. Josie Schuller’s debut in a full-length feature film proves Josie’s popularity, but what makes a viciously violent direct-sales devotee so breathtakingly appealing? How is this comic done better than others bridging the chasm between “home economics” and contract killing?

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Lady Killer’s Josie Schuller covers up assassinations for the CIA with bake sales, dress alterations, and volunteer work for the Hospice. Jones renders a singular story of a homicidal housewife in large part due to the seamless melding of writing and artwork. Jones and Rich work together to create convincing comic relief and vivid images rich in action and detail.

The opening series of events in Lady Killer as an example has Josie posing as an “Avon Lady” at the door of one of her targets. Mrs. Roma answers the door in iconic foam sponge hair rollers with a cigarette hanging from her lips. At first glance, it is a wonder why a hit is out on this pink-slippered dog-hoarder until the fight scene has her eyeing the butcher knives like a pro.

Josie describes a fragrance she has just sprayed on the soon-to-be victim’s face: “It’s called Jungle Gardenia. It’s very Exotic!” As she does the door-to-door bit, Josie is also secretly poisoning her customer’s tea. The poisoning does not pan out, so Josie resorts to sharper objects.

Roma’s body is sprawled for a full-page image after the killing that expertly communicates Josie’s detached temperament. There is blood everywhere and Roma’s West Highland White Terriers prance around the body, tagging the kitchen floor with their little bloody paw prints. The scene is made complete by Jose’s simple gripe: “darn it.” She got blood splatter on her Avon uniform.

Artistically, Jones clearly pays great attention to detail, creating a period-accurate apparel for her characters. Josie’s wardrobe, of course, gets special attention. Jones designs specific pieces for her ensemble including a “cunningly clear vinyl rain cape,” and a “smashing spring swing coat.” Jones researched wallpaper for the series, creating period-popular patterns by hand that were sometimes dropped in digitally. The art is detailed, vibrant and aptly follows the dark comedy of the narrative.

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Others have endeavored to create similar characters of contradictions. Velvet (2014), created by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting has Velvet Templeton doubling as the personal secretary to the Director of a secret spy agency and working as a secret spy herself. The DC series Hex Wives (by Ben Blacker and Mirka Andolfo) is about housewives who were secretly reincarnated witches from seventeenth-century Salem, Massachusetts. Joelle Jones created cover art for this series that is similar to her work for Lady Killer.

Garth Ennis and Adriano Batista created Dynamite Entertainment’s Jennifer Blood in 2011 which returned for a run in 2021 after being picked up by Fred Van Lente and Vincenzo Federici. Jennifer is another housewife with a clandestine role, this time, as a gun-toting vigilante. None of these characters give quite the edge to the lady of the house the way that Josie does.

Velvet Templeton takes on her secret agent gig to do something important and to make a difference. Jennifer Blood certainly demonstrates some of the same hutzpah as Josie, drugging her husband and children with laced hot chocolate to moonlight as a mob-boss-killing vigilante. Her main motivation, however, is an unquenchable thirst for revenge. The witches in Blacker’s Hex Wives are also compelled on a limitless crusade of vengeance.

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Josie Schuller is a character set up differently than the rest. She is a “career woman” who enjoys her work. She actively hires and fires employees. She does not use her move to Cocoa Beach to get out of the assassination business but instead takes advantage of escaping the thumb of an ungrateful supervisor. She starts her own operation to avoid a boss who considers her gendered responsibilities a liability. Josie refuses to choose between her family and her career. She is not motivated to kill by a dream to change the world or exact revenge. She is an entrepreneur, a tradeswoman, and a perfectionist.

It seems strange to adore the murderous mother, but Josie Schuller has fans overlooking major cracks in her moral compass. She is lovable because her American dream includes not just her darling daughters and likable husband, but her powerful role and financial independence. For fans of dark comedy, the fact this role is hired killer is just part of the fun.

Oscar-winning writer Diablo Cody is adapting Lady Killer for a feature-length film to stream on Netflix. It is not yet known when fans will get to see the film adaptation since production has just begun. Josie Schuller’s way of spilling blood all over the proverbial white picket fence makes her worthy of more comic book pages. For now, the anticipation of a Lady Killer film will have to be enough.

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