1 out of 5
There’s a great pulp story hanging around in Gun Honey, which shouldn’t be surprising, coming as it does under the Hard Case Crime imprint, and script by HCC head guy Charles Ardai. Unfortunately, what’s also not surprising is that the publisher’s logical use of their Titan Books’ ownership to hop from books to comics hasn’t equaled the same success rate as their novels – these are two different formats, and a great book writer is not necessarily a great floppy book writer.
Charles Ardai is a great writer, well established in his other HCC offerings. The pitch here – leaning into the cheesecake aspects of pulp, focusing on “Gun Honey” Joanna Tan, who’s skilled at smuggling a weapon into wherever you might need it – is certainly valid for a genre story, and would qualify for the kind of Manara-influenced tit- and ass-focused art of Ang Hor Kheng – but the combination of text and art just flop, with the pacing and twists rather clunky, and the booby Ms. Tan rendered a bit too porny for my tastes. The writing hiccups are part of my comment above about the different formats: I’ve often witnessed novel writers having trouble sussing out the proper flow of a comic page; it’s not something that comes naturally, even if you’re a lifelong fan of the medium. And while I might be a bit of a prude, it’s not the nudity and over-sized busts of the characters that gets me, it’s how inconsistent the art is except for that stuff – eye direction on pages is pretty poor; characters don’t remain on model; so the only thing that feels like it gets focus, panel by panel, is the rendering of Joanna’s chest. And when the most dedicated splash page of your book is not an action sequence, but rather the lesbian tryst… okay bro.
To be a bit less snippy on both fronts, I really do think the outline of characters and overall concept of the book are very solid. Tan’s actions cause her to get picked up by the government, for whom she’s offered a get-out-of-jail card if she helps them catch a particular baddie; we get flashbacks to Tan’s upbringing – single dad, lots of brothers – during which she was taught tricks of the sleight-of-hand and robbery trade while her brothers learned to scuffle; and though somewhat obvious due to the compressed pace of a comic – part of the learning curve – the way Joanna’s past and present come together is, technically, good plotting stuff. It’s just… all the cliched pulp stuff is way too canned to translate one to one from novels to this format, and either Ardai hasn’t nailed scripting specifics yet or Kheng overrode him, because what we’re told in narration and shown in the art don’t really enhance or complement one another – it’s pretty fluffy text lain atop pictures. And also trying to add some more positivity to my take on Kheng: the first issue is more in line with what I wish we got. It’s got a nice Bond vibe in its cheekiness, and feels like Tan’s curves are put to use as a femme fatale instead of just fanservice. The linework also suggests Kheng took a bit more time on the issue; with Asifur Rahman water-color style loose colors, it has a very “classic” European / pulp cover vibe – perfect. But beyond this, as the script rushes us through the story, and there’s more of a need to have traditional dialogue or more nuance choreography, that vibe crumbles, with the aforementioned lack of consistency becoming more obvious.
The trade does feature all of the many covers, which is nice, alongside backmatter from Ardai, on Kheng, and on the future of the book. The HCC imprint is promising, for sure, with some great reprints, but Gun Honey is also in line with many of its new-to-comics writers’ efforts, coming across as very try-hard, and promoting the most obvious aspects of the pulp genre in somewhat amateurish ways.