Gun Honey vol. 2: Blood For Blood (#1 – 4) – Charles Ardai

3 out of 5

What an improvement. The first Gun Honey series postured the way many of these new-to-the-format writers have done under the Hard Case Crime imprint: upping all of the pulp elements to their most extreme, while also suffering from the poor script pacing that less-experienced comic writers tend to. Meanwhile, artist Ang Hor Kheng, when taking his time, effected a fair balance of cheesecake to atmosphere, but also proved to not have the cleanest eyelines / choreography, and fell into some porny artistic bad habits which further undermined the story. The balance was off.

And that’s been very much addressed here.

Previously, Joanna Tan – the gun honey of the title; a for-hire chick who specializes in smuggling weapons into impossible places for others to use – was barely a character, Ardai not sure how to juggle an overly-confusing revenge narrative with flashbacks to her past and framing for further adventures; here, at least thanks to getting some groundwork done, Ardai can firstly better transition between past and present via Joanna’s voiceover, and isn’t trying to push the pulp stuff so hard, though still allowing for plenty of opportunity for it all. Still bearing the hallmarks of a fresh voice in comics, he overwrites this quite a bit still, jumping us around between characters in unnecessary twists and not really nailing the pacing of cliffhangers and stakes needed to build the plot book by book. It’s nonetheless a massive leap forward; the first series was almost painful to get through, this one was absolutely fun, if rough around the edges.

And artwise, Kheng has also taken huge steps forward, both in terms of getting the cheesecake tone in a way that flashes tons of T&A without derailing from story, and in a pleasant “innocent” sense akin to 70s / 80s B-flicks and whatnot that share a similar mentality; and also in terms of simple artistry: character models are much more consistent, and the action actually thrills and reads cleanly. Asifur Rahman, again on colors, has toned back a bit of the faded look to better match Kheng’s slighty more modern, European style; Rahman’s work was cool on the first series, but didn’t always sit well with Ang Hor’s art, and that partnership has been positively adjusted.

In ‘Blood For Blood,’ we jump right into the fallout of volume 1, with Joanna being framed for several murders, likely as due to her actions – that mystery, and how Tan proves her innocence, unfold issue by issue, FBI guy Brook once more at her side. Within each issue, this stuff is pretty fun, but the overall justifications for the story feel rather tenuous – Ardai still feeling out how this ‘gun honey,’ definitely a cool concept for a character, can be the central figure in bigger-stakes tales. He does get us there in an incredibly explosive (and enjoyably ridiculous) final sequence, suggesting the already scheduled volume 3 of this is primed to be another great step forward.