United States Vs. Murder Inc. #2
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Michael Avon Oeming
Issue #2 of United States Vs. Murder Inc. spends its first half resolving the previous story’s cliffhanger. Would-be hitwoman Jagger Rose’s final test goes about as grisly as you’d expect it to. Pitted against a much larger adversary, Bendis and Oeming make the battle intense while maintaining some internal consistency. It’s just as gruesome and bloody as the first issue, but it at least gives that content a more justifiable context. The two pull it together with this fight; it has a huge impact without being excessive. It’s especially impressive coming from a writer so reliant on dialogue. At the same time, seeing Jagger in such a brutal, relentless fight might not sit well with every reader or even come off as outright distasteful to some. Thankfully, the rest of the issue is much more subdued compared to this opening confrontation.
This issue successfully conveys that despite succeeding even when set up to fail, the mob doesn’t want Jagger. It’s communicated without being too obvious, at least compared to other Bendis books. Through this, the character’s at first generic stubbornness has been given a self-destructive aspect that distinguishes her personality. Jagger is now the product of a broken, predatory society, where her bosses are more of a threat than her actual job, though she refuses to let this stop her. Jagger’s story previously had an “empowering” air, though it was hard to see killing people for the mob as uplifting women in any meaningful way. Issue #2 develops this into something more coherent and compelling, as Jagger’s goal plays into the systems of oppression and gender roles that she resists. If United States Vs. Murder Inc. can stick to this theme, it might have something genuinely meaningful to say.
Issue #2 also apparently brings Jagger’s time with Uncle Jake to a close. Their interactions were the highlight of the previous issue, and that’s still the case for issue #2. While it helps progress Jagger’s story, it does feel like the book played its hand a little too early. It seems like that plotline had more places to go. Additionally, Jake’s fate is a little too predictable. It ends up depriving the story of one of its more complex and unique elements. Despite these issues, it’s still a great scene. The facial expressions are better than anything Oeming did in any previous United States Vs. Murder Inc. book. It’s surprisingly clean and ambiguous, with far more weight than all the previous eye gouging and teeth knocking. The only real flaw is an apparent continuity error where one character regains an eye lost earlier in the series.
Unfortunately, issue #2 goes a little off the rails in the last few pages. It awkwardly brings the reader back to the “present day,” tying heavily into the events of the previous series. It also reintroduces hitman Valentine Gallo, who’s a much less interesting protagonist than Jagger. While the first series wasn’t bad, it has a lot less potential than exploring Jagger’s past. Hopefully United States Vs. Murder Inc. will be more focused on the latter than the former going forward.
United States Vs. Murder Inc. #2
Outside of a few missteps, United States Vs. Murder Inc. is definitely one of the stronger books to come out of Bendis' modern body of work.