It appears we’re in the start of (or maybe the middle of, depending on your perspective) a renaissance of progressive storytelling in comic books. With Comicsgate picking at meaningful storytelling and well-deserved choices to increase the diversity and importance of comic book storytelling, it feels more important than ever for stories to push the boundaries and even make some of us uncomfortable. With Jook Joint I think writer Tee Franklin is trying to not only make us think and grow, but also do so in a horror story that makes all of us uncomfortable. It’s stories like these that push the envelope and make us all stronger for it.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
TEE FRANKLIN (BINGO LOVE) and ALITHA E. MARTINEZ (Black Panther: World of Wakanda) team up for a timely horror series from the Deep South! Mahalia runs the hottest spot in all of 1950s New Orleans. The Jook Joint keeps the jazz popping, people bopping… and the women? The women are to die for. There’s only one rule: “Keep your hands to yourself.” But some men think rules don’t apply to them, and Mahalia and her coven of slain women enjoy reminding them that they most certainly do.
Why does this matter?
This is a comic book that comes with a trigger warning page to open things up which made me pause before I read a single word. Neil Gaiman aptly pointed out in his book Trigger Warning these types of warnings actually influence the reading experience. In this comic though I think it’s warranted, and also helps put into perspective what kind of story you’re reading. Without this warning, many may approach this work as gratuitous and raucous in its approach. With it, though, I was left pondering the deeper meaning and the story itself was more enjoyable for it.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
This is a good horror comic that also makes you realize those who are doing the violence are doing so for good reasons even if it is horrific. Writer Tee Franklin puts into perspective the types of damage we can do to each other. If you’re being abused by a loved one that’s a type of damage that is not okay and will change a person. For retribution, if you were to tear someone’s genitals out and make them eat them, that’s also damaging (and admittedly way overboard), but this is a horror story that contains horrors of all kinds.
Interestingly this story reminded me of DC Vertigo’s recent Sandman tie-in series House of Whispers due to its main character sharing similar traits. The main character is a Voodoo woman who mothers and helps those around her. I suspect both are based on similar folktales, though I haven’t researched enough to say for certain. That said, both serve as helpers of those in need in the community. Auntie Mahalia is her name and she runs a whorehouse where everyone is respected and anything goes. It’s progressive considering the time in which this story takes place, which appears to be some time in the 50s. Her method of getting justice is extreme and there are quite a few horrors she takes part in. There’s a deeper story being laid out here involving Mahalia’s desire to bring justice wherever she can even if it means working tirelessly to do so.
If you’re looking for a gory horror comic, this will serve you up a delicious meal. The opening scene, for instance, comes as a complete shock and the art by Alitha E. Martinez (with color by Shari Chankhamma) backs it up. Thankfully the violence has meaning behind it so it’s not just some slasher. Later there are other horrors to be seen and again there’s a point to it. There’s also beauty in the issue like a full page spread of Mahalia entering her domain which looks to be drawn with watercolors and it’s dreamlike. Mahalia isn’t all bad either and there’s a touching moment later in the issue with her helping a mother in need. Martinez draws Mahalia with kindness in these scenes which helps develop her complexity.
It can’t be perfect can it?
This issue serves as a good primer to who the main character is and what the narrative will be about in a bigger way, but I’m left wondering where the conflict lies. Unless each issue is going to be vignette style with terrible violence required to help domestic issues, I don’t see a bigger threat to hang the plot on. That leaves me interested in the next issue, but not dying to read it either. Maybe that will be revealed later, but at the end of this issue I was left wondering more where it could go rather than how it will go.
Is it good?
This is a good first issue that is definitely going to appease horror fans, but it also has meaning in its murders. It’s stories like these that push the envelope and make us all stronger for it.