KIM & KIM #2
Written by Magdalene Visaggio
Art by Eva Cabrera, Claudia Aguirre, Katy Rex, and Zakk Samm
Published by Black Mask Studios
Release Date: August 31, 2016
Despite taking a stab at doing something about as close to “the right thing” as they’re ever likely to attempt by helping their one-time bounty escape his pursuers, the Kims stick to what they know best: massive property damage.
The framing device for this issue is necromancy and how that particular school of magic is too rigid and exacting for our Kims. One thing goes wrong and you’ve gone from summoning the dearly departed to a sandworm on a rampage not seen since Mass Effect 3. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy, there is in fact a sandworm that goes on a rampage late in the issue, but it also functions as a useful metaphor for how our heroines are pathologically unable to color within the lines.
From the opening narration things return to familiar territory with another couple in the middle of a messy break up at a restaurant getting pulled into the bounty hunters’ hijinks. This time as Kim Quatro, the one with the pink hair, takes her attempts to scare up information on the mysterious Lady Babylon too far, bringing a local militia down on their heads. Despite prevailing, it leaves them no further ahead on the trail of Lady Babylon and dangerously close to being in the red despite their would-be bounty Tom Quilt’s ill gotten gains.
Low on money and any other options worth pursuing, the other Kim turns to her family tradition of necromancy and summoning her deceased aunt who once knew Lady Babylon, which, predictably results in the appearance of a rampaging sandworm and belatedly the aunt herself, who reveals herself to have been Lady Babylon all along.
On the whole, Kim & Kim isn’t reinventing the wheel. It’s a fun diversion telling the sort of hard luck adventure stories typified by Cowboy Bebop and Firefly in its own irreverent, hyper contemporary voice. And that’s all it really needs to be in order to be a modest and worthwhile success in today’s marketplace.
If there’s one defining trait common to Black Mask’s breakout hits from Young Terrorists to Four Kids Walk Into a Bank, it’s a lack of self consciousness or postmodern ironic distance. It’s more self indulgence than earnestness, but as a line Black Mask seems to have little time for posturing. Kim & Kim is one of the purest expressions of that sensibility. It’s a freewheeling title that wants to have fun and blow stuff up before anything else.
With that said, Kim & Kim has to be recognized as being fairly revolutionary when it comes to the portrayal of trans characters and issues within not just comics, but pop narratives as a whole. Which, and this isn’t to take away from Kim & Kim at all, says a lot about the dismal state we find ourselves in.
Kim Quatro, of the pink hair and guitar that blows things up, has been described as transgender since the series’ inception and it’s a reality that the readership has to catch up to. There’s no overwrought coming out sequence or speech about the nature of trans identity and dysphoria to coddle the readership. The narrative’s approach to Quatro’s trans identity is more or less “If you don’t know, now you know.”
It’s left up to inference through Kim’s own dialog referencing her gender history in the first issue and in a more subtly poignant way this issue when it’s revealed that her estranged father, the source of much of her current woes, keeps her birth name and a pre-transition photo as contact information in his phone. It’s the kind of distinction that separates the typical portrayal of transgender issues as being for and about a cisgender audience and genuine self directed narratives.
It’s frustrating and ought to be embarrassing for the industry as a whole that this kind of portrayal is genuinely novel in this day and age rather than being an expression of the status quo. Stories centering transgender characters have the potential to move beyond the particular forms of prejudice and social misery foisted on us by contemporary society. They don’t have to be referendums or plebiscites. They can be stories about people who live, laugh, and shoot things with guitars.
It’s a simple idea to be sure, but one that seems to require the backing of the industry’s most confrontational and anti-establishment publisher to bring to fruition.
On the art front, Eva Cabrera continues to deliver the punch that drives the series’ high velocity action, employing a distinctly anime inflected style to push the emotional beats into overdrive, using devices like speedlines and dynamic posing in service to emotion more than action. There’s plenty of room for Cabrera to grow in delivering consistent cartooning and concrete action sequences, but she applies her key strengths in ways that bolster the focus of the title and is very well supported in those priorities by colorist Claudia Aguirre’s neon heavy palette to deliver a story that’s far more about the people who blow things up than the act itself.
There’s a lot of ways for Kim & Kim to refine itself as it continues, namely finding ways to tighten up the slack when the narration and dialog overrun the flow of the page or pushing the art to lead both the eye across the page and the reader through the story more directly. Regardless of those shortcomings, it remains a refreshing and accessible title that the entire industry could stand to learn some lessons from.
The Verdict: 8.0/10