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Beautiful Killer

Black Bull Entertainment is semi-famous for three things: Garth Ennis's Just A Pilgrim miniseries, the poorly written/conceived/executed series Gatecrasher, and being the only small print comic book company (that produced around four actual titles) to receive multiple, full-page advertisements in Wizard magazine.

The reason for this was that Black Bull was coincidentally headed by Gareb Shamus, CEO of Wizard Entertainment, and let no man say that corporate nepotism isn't publicity, despite its inherent lack of ethics. I dislike Wizard for this and several other reasons, among which is the fact that the magazine caters to the lowest common denominators of fanboy-dom.

Despite my disinclination toward Wizard and Black Bull, I came across a title by them that boasted some damn admirable attributes and pretty much begged to be read: Beautiful Killer.

Written by Jimmy Palmiotti (currently writing 21 Down for Wildstorm) and drawn and painted by Phil Noto (of Birds Of Prey cover fame), it is the story of Brigit Cole. Brigit has been trained from nearly birth to be the perfect killer. She's an expert in weapons training, hand-to-hand combat, and she can disappear into any crowd without so much as a trace if the need should arise. If her crosshairs are on you, you'll soon have a grapefruit sized hole where your left ventricle used to be. But she never wanted any of it.

Her parents, legends in the espionage field and now hiding from it, have kept her secluded from the rest of the world on a remote island, living as normal and happy a life as they could, while training Brigit to deal with the worst the world has to offer. They've been awaiting the day when their past as agents, and their "theft" of an experimental formula designed to increase one's lifespan finally catch up to them. And it does.

Brigit was supposed to disappear after the death of her parents, but has opted for a second option: revenge! (Dramatic, ain't I?) What follows is a tale of pain, woe, and plenty of snazzy explosions and gunfire.

Palmiotti is a comic veteran and it shows in the story. He handles Brigit's character exceptionally well, especially in the moral realm. Palmiotti makes no apologies when he writes Brigit: her parents are dead and someone has to pay. Brigit doesn't agonize over the validity of her mission and doesn't over-analyze her grief after she makes the decision to avenge her parents, and we do get to see her make the decision right at the beginning, in a scene Palmiotti pens well:

Brigit in narrative:
I had so much confidence two days ago…48 hours and I'm a mess…If I can only stop shaking…just long enough to take the shot.

This is how we start the book and I like Palmiotti's decision to put the reader right at the critical point: does Brigit take the first step necessary to balance the scales, or does she give up the idea of revenge and go live an anonymously safe life?

Obviously she picks the former, otherwise the book would be called Beautiful Math Teacher, but seeing her make the decision and then carry it out in cold determination, with no further moral questioning, is a great hook for the reader. It's reminiscent of the anti-hero days of the late 80s and early 90s, where serial killer zombies and gun-toting vigilantes could hold their own books (the difference being that this is written well).

Also, Palmiotti slowly brings the reader in on the whole story, placing flashbacks throughout to flesh out Brigit's character, and to provide the reader with the back story of how Brigit's parents became embroiled in this affair in the first place, and to show us who Brigit's victims will be. Admittedly, the flashbacks are somewhat muddled at first because they're an abrupt slow-down during the usually fast paced action, but as the book progresses, it becomes less of a problem.

Phil Noto is what really makes this book shine though. While Palmiotti's storytelling is good, Noto's art takes the comic to a higher level. You may have seen the cover work he's been doing for DC in the recent years (which is one of the reasons I've always kicked myself for not picking up Birds Of Prey every week), but his page work is something even better.

While some of the characters suffer from what I like to call facial sameness (many of the females have faces that are just a touch too similar), Noto renders each character clearly and creates a god visual sense of each through uses of hair and dressing style. He excels with Brigit, whose unique look and design are creative. I'm a big fan of the different color eyes: a visual that Palmiotti works into the story. And the fact that Noto did all the coloring with paints, with little to no inking, makes everything a more vibrant and gives all the characters a touch more life.

Noto also has a great touch with the action. He knows how to depict movement and the only thing I can compare it to is Bryan Hitch's work on Ultimates and The Authority. Brigit moves quickly, but with an inherent grace that Noto captures well.

Noto has a great cinematic mind (a skill that stems from his time spent as an animator) and sets up some really nice scenes, especially during the action sequences (one scene where she walks into a room full of gun-drawn bodyguards put me to mind of a Tarantino flick). And he takes a page from Will Eisner's The Spirit, when he does some splash pages that ignore comic book panels and make for intriguing visuals.

I'm impressed with Beautiful Killer and almost mourn the fact that there aren't more stories in the making at Black Bull (though there is talk of a film starring Jessica Alba). It's a great story with great art, a Phil Noto sketch gallery, and a cover gallery, all for a meager $9.99. I recommend it to all those raised on an island and taught ten different ways to perform an unwelcome tracheotomy on unsuspecting bad guys.

As always, the views expressed by Mr. Sparling are not necessarily those of Fanboy Planet. Wait a minute -- I did like this book...

Robert Sparling

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