While the big two comics publishers will probably always be DC and Marvel unless something quite unpredictable happens, Image have not so quietly leapt in to third place over the last few years, producing hit series like The Walking Dead and Invincible, and some of the best comics around in the form of Saga, Descender, Paper Girls, The Wicked + The Divine and Injection. Assassin Nation won’t be joining either category though as it’s a tiresome affair, there’s the odd decent line of dialogue but most of the time it’s a bucket load of violence revolving around a plot which is surprisingly mundane after the first issue.
The set up is that a former assassin and now mob boss by the name of Mr Rankin is the subject of a hit, and not wanting to die he hires the top 20 assassins in the world who include killers like Fuck Tarkington, David Bowie Knife, Dave, Red Scorpion, Fernando, Wistful Stan and El Sicario. Such names might give you an idea of the level of humour here, which is that it thinks it’s cleverer than it really is, and it’s the kind of thing that might make you smile at best but little more than that.
After we’re introduced to all of the characters writer Kyle Starks makes it easier for the audience to work out who’s who by killing over half of them off as it’s revealed that some of them have already been hired to murder Rankin, but sadly they fail and with eight assassins left they have to work out who wants him dead, and quickly too as he’s being shot at left, right and centre. There’s also a subplot about one of the killers wanting to track down the person responsible for killing his husband which adds a little depth to events but sadly the idea isn’t explored in any particular interesting ways.
Over the next four issues there’s mainly a lot of over the top violence and gore, with Starks having little imagination with most of the killings tending to involve brains bursting out of heads as a bullet rips through them, and he concentrates on supposedly witty dialogue to keep things entertaining. Unfortunately he’s only rarely successful in doing so, and most of the time it’s just full of machismo bragging that grates quickly, like how in one part Rankin claims “You and me? We climbed a mountain and fucked the sun, my friend. We got the sunburnt dicks to prove it” while another character is described as “He looks like if humans evolves from testicles instead of monkeys”, which could have been funny if the artwork lived up to such a claim, but it truly doesn’t.
On that front the art by Erica Henderson is extremely cartoonish which fits the script better than something ultra serious or grim dark might, and Henderson isn’t a bad artist in any way, but she’s not a particularly great one either. The bloodshed is repetitive and most of the time fails to be funny, despite Starks’ script supposedly relying on the over the top nature of the killings to provide laughs. Comics have often fetishised violence and I don’t necessarily always mind such a thing, but this feels like Starks was masturbating while writing it as he loves seeing blood and guts splattering all over the place, and I doubt many will find it amusing after the first dozen examples in the first issue.
Assassin Nation was hyped up by Image as having “the same laugh-until-you-cry spirit of action-comedies like Hot Fuzz, Tropic Thunder, and Deadpool” but it doesn’t come even close to replicating the intelligent ridiculousness of Hot Fuzz, or the snarky humour of Deadpool, at times I had to go back and check it was supposed to be a humourous comic as it was so unfunny. I wouldn’t even recommend reading it if you can do so for free, sure it might make you smile once or twice but unless you’re brand new to this genre of comics / films than it won’t be anything you haven’t seen way too many times before.