Writer: Magdalen Visaggio
Pencils and Inks: Eva Cabrera
Colors: Claudia Aguirre
Letters: Zaak Samm
Edits: Katy Rex
Producer: Matt Pizzolo
Publisher: Black Mask Studios
WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS
We are near the end of Kim & Kim. We've followed the protagonists Kim Q. and Kim B. to some crazy places: desert wastelands, underwater cities, and now a frozen wasteland (What is it with sci-fi and wastelands?) trying to take ex-El Scorcho crony and fugitive Tom Quilt home to Dimension 12. It seems the Kims' mission is coming to an end...or is it? Nothing goes according to plan for the unlucky duo, and the forces of El Scorcho and the Calatans might be just too much for them.
It's guns, hijinks, and total insanity in this queer-led sci-fi miniseries from the fine folks at Black Mask Studios, and it will rock your socks off.
I don't feel inclined to get into the cover and interior art. I've already written two reviews praising the art team for their contributions here and there. The proof is in the pudding and if I haven't sold it to you by now, tough shit. However, I will comment on some of the things they do differently here that I like.
The big one all around is the presence of snow. I love the wall of snow that dominates Neogi's cover. It doesn't clash with her style at all and, at least for me, highlights the colors counterbalanced by the pencils' punk rock sketchiness. It brings out more of an upbeat energy than usual. As for the interiors, Cabrera and Aguirre implement snow in a way that feels realistic, naturally blending in characters and objects without clashing with their cartoonish appeal.
Zaak Saam's lettering is top notch, not exactly at Sandman levels of experimentation, but he is really good at increasing the boldness for dramatic effect and incorporating them into action scenes where they are a part of the art and not just something tagged on for sound effects. The only problem I have are the random pink colored dialogue balloons that still appear. As far as I can tell, they are not for any artistic reasons, just completely random. A mistake, maybe? It's a little weird since the default color is white, and an even sadder missed opportunity because it could have been used to indicate a unique character and suggest the way they speak is not normal speech. At least there are robots with blocky lettering and jagged dialogue balloons. That gets a plus.
My favorite part of the interior art for this issue is the panel composition for pages 1-3. Each of the four panels is a different scene that ties into the story, two in the past, one in the present, and one of Kim Q. narrating a previous event. First, I love it when there is narration of a scene while another one is taking place. It forces the reader to imagine what that scene looked like while contemplating how it relates to current events. Second, this composition is a great way of catching up the reader with important information and tying different plotlines together quickly, while also sparing the lengthy time it would take to do them separately. The only thing is that with at least two of these scenes you would have to read the previous two issues to understand their context. I don't consider that a problem. Just buy the issues like you should have in the first place!
The only downside is the panels with Zaar and Columbus, two employees of the Calatans, that does not come to any satisfying conclusion. They are still after the two Kims and Tom Quilt, and it is indicated that they are following their trail; the implication to the reader being that they will find them and important, dramatic shit will happen. But it doesn't. Those beginning pages are all they show up in. Maybe they will in the next issue and it will pay off, but it is still a downer it didn't happen in this issue.
The lack of Zaar and Columbus is minor compared to the real problem though, and, to be quite frank, is a longstanding problem for the series that causes issue #3 to be the low point of the series so far. Let me be clear, I love this comic. It is awesome. It is a great debut and important entry into the growing demand for queer-led comics made by actual queer creators. Visaggio & Co. are a hell of a creative team and everyone involved is going to become superstars. So, with that said, I hope this criticism is seen as an opportunity to learn what went wrong and improve for the sake of future stories.
An important part of storytelling is gradual change, for the setting, the characters, and/or both. Usually, this change is needed to resolve the conflict of the story. On a character level, the best conflicts are both external (angry-faced comet on a crash course to fuck shit up) and internal ("My daddy never loved me!"). The protagonist's life mostly centers around the internal problem, and suddenly an external problem forces them to go on a quest. The quest is also an opportunity for the protagonist to work out their internal conflict, conquer it, and grow as a person. Consequently, the external conflict is resolved. There's a fancy term for this type of storyline, but the main point is "I change myself from within, then I have the power to change the world around me." For example, the protagonist could be a coward, but the quest they go on forces them to become brave and they resolve all conflicts by being so. It's a lot more sophisticated than I'm making it sound and certainly there are exceptions and subversions, but that's the basic gist.
The external conflict of Kim & Kim is obvious, but what is the internal, personal conflict? It might seem to be Kim Q.'s estrangement from her father or Kim B.'s failure to grasp necromancy. While those are important, Kim & Kim mostly focuses on their partnership, so the conflict would have to involve both. The conflict I found, the problem the duo equally suffers from, is the fact they suck at being bounty hunters. In every issue thus far, the two Kims have found a way to fuck everything up, starting fights, spending too much money, and other poor decisions that causes a bad situation to get worse. This is because they are reckless. They rarely think before acting. At first, this is cause for hilarity. It's funny knowing these two are professional bounty hunters but can't take care of themselves. Plus, it's smart to have imperfect heroes. If they were just good at everything, the Kims would get boring quick.
However, it gets serious as soon as Tom Quilt comes under their protection. Suddenly, he becomes a casualty as the Kims' behavior lead to huge portions of his limited funds being spent without avail and they continuously fail their mission to bring him home. There is also a scene where a city is being destroyed by a monster, an accidental creation of theirs, and the two momentarily decide to leave it be for others to clean up. I talked about this before, but it bothers me. The Kims' recklessness stops being funny and I start doubting if I like them. This is not a bad thing either. Just like having imperfect protagonists is important, it's also important for the reader to have a range of feelings for them. A protagonist you can love or hate at different moments is a fully realized character. They are a complex range of personality traits, not just a flat feel-good machine.
The problem is not that the Kims have negative traits; it's that their internal conflict doesn't naturally change. The first issue establishes the conflict; in the second issue, the Kims realize their recklessness affects other people and make amends by improving their tactics. It seems they are on the right trajectory until issue #3. Honestly, it's not so much the issue halts this progression as it's unfulfilled. A dramatic moment involving Tom Quilt where the Kims make the ultimate fuck up and fix it is not shown, but reminisced in a joking manner that, although probably not meant to, comes off as aloof as though the Kims don't take it seriously. I see how this is suppose to be funny in a comic full of humor. Dialogue in Kim & Kim has a lot of jokey rambling and non-sequiturs. Too much in fact, given it slows the story down or deflates moments that need to be serious. It gets boring quicker than Coldplay songs.
Also, sidenote, it doesn't do much to expand upon Tom Quilt. The first issue gives the impression of him being a really scary guy. I mean, he kills a man in cold blood and hijacks a truck, and the reader does not know the fate of the original driver. Bad first impression if there was any, but that is subverted when Tom is revealed to be a victim of enslavement. The dramatic moment in issue #3 has him revert back a little to that first impression, but it is never really explored. It would have been interesting to learn if Tom's actions, despite justified, caused some kind of trauma and now he is cracking under the guilt or whatever negative emotion he's feeling.
Man, I sound like such a killjoy right now, don't I? None of these elements are necessarily bad. They're simply uneven. Pull things back, drop the humor, or at the least, not go overboard with it at certain moments. Shorten the dialogue. If you're going to include rambling and non-sequitur, don't overuse it. If your protagonists have flaws, especially ones that negatively affect others, have them change naturally not so much those flaws go away but they're not so extreme. Moderation. Moderation. Moderation.
There is still plenty of good in Kim & Kim #3. As ever, the story is funny and full of action. Also, the queerness of the comic gets even queerer as the two Kims start expressing their true love for each other. What? Surprised? Come on. If you didn't sense the sexual tension between these two, you're most oblivious person ever. What I especially love about this issue is the queer feminism driving it. It's always been present, but watching queer women take center stage, helping each other and being badass, really shines in this particular issue, especially with the Kims meeting a woman, who is in many way an older version of them. If you're a queer woman, this is the comic for you. Now, if you're straight or a dude, don't let that stop you from reading it. I'm the whitest of the white, the straightest of the straight, ciset of the cis, the manliest of man (Okay, maybe not that last part), and I love Kim & Kim.
The only thing I didn't understand was how someone somewhere stated this issue says "fuck the patriarchy." This is because, as far as I've read the series, there is no established patriarchy, implicit or explicit, that opposes the protagonists. Perhaps with Kim Q.'s dad misgendering her and always trying to bring her back to the Calatans. Aside from the misgendering, there is nothing patriarchal about Furious Quatro. He comes off as a typical overprotective parent. If this statement was referring to El Scorcho, then it's not provable because no one involved with El Scorcho has made any kind of presence to demonstrate if they have patriarchal tendencies, and being a crime syndicate does not count because that is not inherently patriarchal.
This is a good time to discuss yet another major flaw in Kim & Kim. Aw, no. Thought we were past this point, right? Hey, I'm being critical to be helpful here.
There aren't really good antagonists established in Kim & Kim. It sadly suffers the same problem plaguing most modern genre comics, so much focus is centered on establishing the protagonists they forget "Oh, right. We need bad guys." The villains become an afterthought and usually end up boring, flat characters. One compensation usually attempted is to make the villain a representation of societal ill, but if the villain is already flat and boring, then so is the point you're trying to make.
Kim & Kim would have benefited if El Scorcho was established more. The reader is only told of their criminal activity, but doesn't see it. Only one member of El Scorcho is seen and he doesn't come off as the bad guy type. Seeing more of El Scorcho, putting a face to the villainy, witnessing their actions, and knowing how they justify it all, would have established their role as the antagonist, expand upon the comic's world, and explore whatever larger issue they're supposed to represent. Fortunately, the Calatans work as antagonists, Furious Quatro, Zaar, and Columbus always pursuing the Kims and Tom Quilt, while managing to be complex. They're not evil so much as amoral. They do not think about how taking jobs from El Scorcho further harms people. However, they also try to help the Kims out occasionally. If El Scorcho is to remain one-sidedly evil, at least these guys can be a counterbalance.
Despite all the flaws, Kim & Kim #3 is still a fun read full of action, humor, and strong representation of queer women. Hopefully, the final issue will wrap things up nicely. Even after that, one can hope for more stories involving the two Kims and the fascinating, crazy world they live in.