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November 21, 2017

Dominatrix: Hellbent in Heels #1 (of 3) (Review)


Dominatrix: Hellbent in Heels #1 (of 3)
Arcana Studios, September 2017
Writer: Erik Hendrix

Prostitution, and escort services more broadly, provide a lifestyle which can hard to shake off. Many workers in the industry, fortunate or clever enough to be in working scenarios where they avoid excessive drug use and violence, can find it hard to change third party perceptions if and once those workers decide to bid the career farewell. They can be haunted by industry acquaintances and clients. There is also the temptation to fall back into old habits.

The plot for this first issue is fairly straightforward. A highly-strung weapons dealer named Keola offers criminals all sorts of military-grade weaponry. The action takes place in Hawaii, and there is a suggestion that the backdrop to the plot is some sort of gun convention. The interactions between Keola and her minions are either very violent or quirkily amusing (at one point, like a tetchy maiden aunt, Keola tells off one particularly macho henchmen for slouching while in the back seat of a helicopter). After allowing her potential customers to play with the goods, at the conclusion of the story Keola reveals her highest value weapons: three individuals who possess superpowers and are very willing and capable of causing destruction and death. Indeed, midway through the issue an informant named Jonah appears to have been eviscerated by one of these improbably-powered bad guys. The appearance of the super-powered trio at the conclusion is jarring – this first issue was playing out as an interesting crime story until that last two pages- but otherwise the story is very well-paced. The characters crackle with personality, ranging from sassy to slightly creepy, and the dialogue is polished.

The protagonist in this story is Dominique, who appears to be a former dominatrix. There are previous comics about Dominique written by Erik Hendrix, the writer of this script, and published by Arcana Studios, but your correspondent enters the world of Dominique unencumbered by her history. The character however does not have the same luxury. It is at a very early point in the issue that the underpinning story becomes significant as more than a tale of powerful guns, beautiful weapons dealers, and flying murderers. A man named Doug, who is possibly a former client, sends Dominique a cell phone. She smashes it with a hammer once she works out who has sent it. Doug then appears at Dominique’s door. She drags him inside and pushes him up against the wall. It is clear that she does not want his presence or involvement in her life. Doug, for his part, is happy to taunt Dominique with quips about her expertise in sadomasochism. When slammed against the wall, Doug mocks her: “Come now. Don’t you want to charge me first, Dominatrix?” She kicks him in response. “Aargh! I didn’t come for a social call, but for you, pleasure before business.” Dominique threatens Doug with a hammer, before she calms down and is plainly embarrassed and disconcerted by her own behaviour. She offers Doug a drink. “Not quite the foreplay I was expecting, Dominique.” There is something quite sad about this exchange, Dominique’s violence, and her regret at over-reacting. Dominique cannot escape her past, because she is not permitted to by those who knew her as she once was.

Choices around prostitution have never to our knowledge been properly dealt with by American comic books. Garth Ennis’ title The Pro, published by Image Comics, is a parody. Brian Azzarello’s work on 100 Bullets for Vertigo Comics featured an intelligent and thoughtful prostitute, but her background was never properly explored. The prostitutes in Frank Miller’s Sin City were a highly contrived tribe of feral Amazons. If this subtext continues throughout the series, then this title will provide a sympathetic and therefore culturally important vantage point on the life of a sex industry worker, from the novel perspective of her life after she has finished being a sex industry worker.

It takes skill and courage to write a story about a dominatrix which is more than mere titillation for a male audience, and Mr Hendrix (possibly with the assistance of the series creator and curator, musician Gene Simmons) demonstrates his trade craft, in this opening sequence, with skill and nuance.

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