William Harms and Edward Pun (illustrator)
Price: Rs 2,000
The opening scene of Kill Bill Vol. 2 ought to be taught in film school (for all I know, it probably is) for the enterprising way it tells us something that we already know: that Beatrix Kiddo aka The Bride (Uma Thurman) is going to be ambushed at her own wedding rehearsal in a little church in El Paso, Texas. The shock of the Viper Assassination Squad, dressed all in black, outside the chapel, was created because of the genteel but tension-fraught scene that happened just before it: a flute-playing Bill (David Carradine) seemingly forgiving Kiddo for running away from him. The magic is in the setup.
William Harms and Edward Pun were certainly paying attention: their 2014 four-part miniseries Shotgun Wedding begins and ends with a wedding, and delivers a hailstorm of bullets in between, including a wedding ambush a la Kill Bill. At its heart though, it is a bit of a morality play that passes unforgiving judgment upon all its principal characters, despite providing them (and us) with some serious extenuating circumstances at every step of their path.
Mike Stone is an assassin who works for an unspecified governmental agency (the CIA is never called out by name, but there are enough hints). He possesses a moral compass, a rarity in the modern world and all but unheard of in his line of work. He does what he does because he thinks it will make the world a better place. His partner Chloe, though, is cut from a different cloth: she enjoys taunting her targets, revels in a wanton, wild existence and flaunts her impressive kill count whenever she can. Despite these contradictory personalities, Mike and Chloe find themselves attracted to each other.
At the beginning of the story, we are shown a scene from five years ago where Mike left Chloe at the altar. Moving on from the incident, Mike eventually meets and gets engaged to Denise, a mild-mannered schoolteacher. Chloe, however, has tracked down Mike and turns up at the wedding with her new colleagues (she has switched sides and is now working for a group of elite assassins employed by a mobster called The Turk). She kidnaps Denise. Mike is faced with a choice: marry Chloe or watch Denise die before his eyes.
All of this happens in the first half of the series itself: it’s how Harms and Pun construct Mike and Chloe’s past that is the really impressive part of Shotgun Wedding. At one point, we see Mike and Chloe out on a mission: to kill or capture The Turk. When they are just outside the hideout where The Turk and his associates are suspected to be, Chloe stops and unzips her black bodysuit a fair way down, so that her targets have an eyeful before they die. She looks at her smirking partner and says, “What? This thing is hot!” Mike, wise to her ways, remarks, “You enjoy putting up a show, don’t you?”
I found this scene interesting because in a lot of martial arts comics or films, we are told that a certain amount of showboating and razzle-dazzle is desirable in matters of warfare: it befuddles the enemy and takes his attention off his well-laid plans. But here, Harms and Pun subvert this trope brutally: we see Mike and Chloe walking right into a trap moments after the unzipping, where a smiling Turk is waiting, instruments of torture at hand.
Shotgun Wedding is also a departure from Hollywood’s secret agent obsession: Mike is neither a polyglot brainiac nor a bumpkin who just happens to have a talent for bloodshed. He is, as clichéd as that might sound, a thoroughly mediocre person when he doesn’t have a gun. He is foolish enough to not spot deception when it’s staring at him. He is also sensitive enough to win the heart of a young woman struggling with the challenge of looking after a terminally ill mother. Image Comics has been having an extraordinary run for the past couple of years: Sex Criminals, Spawn, Chew and now Shotgun Wedding. All serious literature must deal with sex and death, I once read. This is a series that checks both boxes