ASSASSIN NATION #1 BY KYLE STARKS AND ERICA HENDERSON
Plot
Art
Characterization
Summary
ASSASSIN NATION #1 is easily one of the funniest series to come out of Image Comics' Skybound imprint this year. Kyle Starks and Erica Henderson play to each other's strengths and have fun along the way. Fans of SEXCASTLE and UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL will find plenty to love about a murderous lot of assassins paid to protect a big target. It's a must read.
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The word assassin is defined as someone who “commits murder often for political or religious reasons.” What that definition doesn’t include is that assassins can also be hired for money. It’s fitting then that ASSASSINATION NATION #1 by Kyle Starks (SEXCASTLE, KILL THEM ALL) and Erica Henderson (UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL) is a zany, bloody tale about murderers. When the life of the former world’s best hitman is at risk, he hires the world’s top twenty assassins as his personal bodyguards.

Because this is a series by Starks and Henderson — who are no strangers to humor — you can expect to laugh out loud. That is to say that as the bodies drop, you’ll be too busy wiping tears from your eyes. ASSASSIN NATION #1 is easily one of the funniest comic books I’ve had the pleasure of reading in 2019.

I’ve Got 99 Problems but Killing Ain’t One

From the first page, Starks come out guns blazing with humor. Initially, we meet the aforementioned ex-hitman, Rankin (AKA “Chekhov’s Gun”) as he interrogates a goon. Rankin is the boss of the second largest crime syndicate in the city and recalls his time as the number one assassin. Suddenly, shots fire and all hell breaks loose as an unknown assailant tries to kill Rankin. One the big the questions of the series is who wants Rankin dead? More importantly, can all of Rankin’s bodyguards survive without murdering each other?

ASSASSIN NATION #1
Image courtesy of Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment

After the botched attempt on his life, Rankin decides to fire his current bodyguards and hire more competent ones. Part of what makes ASSASSIN NATION #1’s plot work so well is that the killers all have distinct personalities. Furthermore, this issue is essentially a twisted version of AMERICAN IDOL — an audition for hitmen with some clever twists. Additionally, the pace is quite good because Starks gives readers time to breathe between panels. However, my one minor nitpick with this issue is that there’s a grammatical error on one word. While most readers probably won’t notice it, I think it’s still worth pointing out.

A Colorful Cast of Cold-Blooded Killers

With this being a story about murderers, there’s no shortage of them. Indeed, Starks and Henderson gives the colorful cast of assassins time to introduce themselves. First, Fuck Tarkington is a country bumpkin who looks a bit like Freddie Mercury. Next, Dave is a low-ranked assassin who geeks out and goes around the party asking for autographs. Lastly, Wistful Stan is an older man who raises through the ranks to number seven because he mercy kills elderly people. And this is just the start of assassins on the VIP list. Evidently, Starks and Henderson had fun designing the assassins and it shows.

More importantly, the party of assassins know Rankin previously went by the name of Chekhov’s Gun. Indeed, it’s quite fascinating to learn about Rankin’s past. For instance, we learn that Maxwell was the assassin who took the number one rank after Rankin retired. We also learn that Rankin has three attempts on his life for three straight weeks. Starks shows that behind his charismatic veneer, Rankin is really quite vulnerable and afraid.

Henderson Crafts Hilariously Fun Carnage

Henderson’s artwork fits perfectly with Starks’ absurd premise. With ASSASSIN NATION #1, Henderson both draws and colors the world. From there it snowballs because Henderson peppers in all kinds of humorous details. For instance, when we meet Maxwell Bishop, a hitman who Rankin calls out of retirement, he touts a golden gun that’s engraved with the word “revenge” on it. This is complimented by Maxwell’s desire to get retribution on the person who killed his husband. The joke is that he places his gun on a tray with a sign that says “For the safety of yourself and others, please leave your guns here.”

ASSASSIN NATION #1
Image courtesy of Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment

As for Henderson’s coloring work, it’s quite a joy to behold. Strikingly, Henderson masterfully knows how to render chaos. When Rankin’s escape car blows up, Henderson bathes the background in orange, yellow, and red. Meanwhile, she colors Rankin and his men in cool colors — shades of blue and grey — with yellow highlights for realism. It’s a well done two-page spread that effectively communicates carnage. Henderson makes it easy and clear to see Rankin and his men within the explosion. All in all, ASSASSIN NATION #1 easily showcases some Henderson’s best work.

ASSASSIN NATION #1 Successfully Balances Violence and Humor

Overall, ASSASSIN NATION #1 successfully balances violence and humor to tell an entertaining story. Across its twenty-four pages, the jokes deliver at a steady clip. You’ll fall in love with the absurd premise from the first page. In addition, fans of Henderson’s previous work on UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL will find plenty to love about this series. While it remains to be seen if Starks and Henderson can keep up the momentum in future issues, I think this is a good sign of things to come.

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