There once was an assassin who was so good, he was called “Chekhov’s Gun.” He was the #1 assassin on a Monster’s Inc. style leaderboard. But he’s settled down only to find his life in danger. So now he must recruit a lethal team to protect himself. Sounds pretty fun, eh? Alas, the gory shenanigans only get it so far.
Kyle Starks has a fun idea here, but the writing is what undoes this first issue. Probably the biggest problem is the main character, who I’ll just refer to as Chekhov (mostly because I enjoy picturing the Star Trek character as a gangster). Despite the 24 page count, it’s hard to describe Chekhov’s personality. He’s a loud gangster type, but it’s hard to pin down what makes him worth following. He’s obsessed with being protected, yet we don’t get a sense of fleeting mortality to ground him. It’s telling that when the issue shifts to the other assassins, the comic instantly gets better.
As for pacing, Assassin Nation is baggy. Each scene goes on way too long and dialogue is often repetitive and on-the-nose. While we’re on dialogue, I must call attention to a grievous moment on the very first page. #1 opens with Chekhov telling a tied-up goon how he was named, to which the captive replies: “Yeah. I get the reference.” But Starks was scared somehow we might not get one of Star Trek’s most iconic references, so the main character has to explain it. The goon claps back, “Man, I said I got it.” Just because a writer ironically comments on their laziness doesn’t make it acceptable.
Tonally, there’s something off. When blood is shed, there’s little sense of suspense or stakes because the tone is so flippant and trying to be comedic. I get a lot of Mark Millar-wannabe vibes from this. Yet, Millar is a master at juggling tension and dark comedy while this flails about.
On that note, it’s hard to get behind Chekhov’s fear of being assassinated. We only see one attempt on his life and it’s not very successful or clever. He’s barely injured and he doesn’t seem terribly scared (more irritated). Instead of us, the audience, fearing for this guy’s safety, it’s painfully obvious the assassination attempts are just a rushed excuse for the plot.
Now we come to the art and the MVP of this series: Erica Henderson. A lot of other names come to mind when trying to describe her vibrant art. Chris Samnee. Sanford Greene. Declan Shalvey. And that’s a good thing. Even when the script lags, the interiors shine in every regard. We’re dealing with over 20 characters here, yet their forms and body language are unique to each other. Action spreads are just as impressive as small slapstick inserts. Henderson’s design sense and coloring is a feast for the eyes. In all honesty–this issue is worth buying just for the layouts.