Each week, Big Issues focuses on a newly released comic-book issue of significance. This week, it’s The Kitchen #6. Written by Ollie Masters (Sensation Comics) with art by Ming Doyle (Mara, Quantum And Woody) and colorist Jordie Bellaire (Zero, Moon Knight), this issue marks a major turning point for this tense miniseries as the central mob wives go to war with their husbands. (Warning: This review reveals major plot points.)
Men dominate mob dramas. No question about it. Over the years, women have gained meatier roles in these stories, but they are rarely in the position of power. They typically play mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, and mistresses, and while they may have considerable influence on male mobsters, the ultimate authority still lies in the hands of men. The Kitchen challenges this tradition by casting three mob wives as crime bosses when their husbands go to prison, and the change in perspective makes it a captivating new take on the genre.
Raven, Kathy, and Angie have to fight an uphill battle to take control of their husbands’ territory, but with the help of their enforcer/mentor Tommy, they establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with. And then their husbands get out of prison. The men aren’t happy with their wives’ new positions in the Hell’s Kitchen underworld, but these women aren’t going to give up power now that they finally have it for themselves. Now they know why their husbands are so dedicated to their criminal lifestyle, they understand the satisfaction of amassing huge stores of cash through intimidation, the invigorating thrill of knowing you can tell someone what to do and they will do it without question. But one woman is more committed to maintaining her authority than the others, and The Kitchen #6 shows how far Raven will go to make sure she keeps her position.
Writer Ollie Masters is a newcomer to comics—The Kitchen is his first monthly gig—but the strength of his script for this miniseries suggests a bright future for him in the industry. This suspenseful, surprising piece of character-driven crime fiction also serves as a forceful commentary on shifting gender roles following the second-wave feminist movement, exploring the challenges faced by women entering the work force. The women of this story are working their way up the criminal ladder instead of the corporate one, but they still have to deal with husbands who think their place is in the home and a hostile workplace environment that undervalues them.
As women continue to fight for pay equality and control over their bodies, The Kitchen’s message of true female independence resonates strongly today. In a scene from issue #5, Angie’s husband asks Tommy if he really thinks this is a good line of work for women, and Tommy’s response sums up a major theme of the miniseries: “You really think that’s our fuckin’ choice to make, Rob?” What gives men the right to think that they know what’s best for women more than women do? Tommy deflates Rob’s sense of privilege, and at the start of this week’s issue he takes Rob’s head off as a clear warning to the other husbands that their interference is no longer going to be tolerated.
Tommy fires the opening shot in this war between spouses, but Raven takes charge once the stakes have risen. And the stakes rise dramatically and quickly. When Raven’s jealous husband comes raging through her door with a gun in hand, looking for the Italian gangster she’s been cheating on him with, she fights him for control of his weapon and empties a bullet into his stomach. That moment is immediately followed by a phone call from Kathy revealing that Franky Castellano, the made man they accidentally put in a coma in the first issue, has woken up.
Franky’s revival puts their entire operation at risk just as the women are coming close to achieving total autonomy from their husbands (by killing them off), but Raven isn’t especially worried. She’s cool and collected, knowing exactly what needs to be done in order to wipe out the threat of Franky. After calling Tommy to have him clean up her husband, she heads out to make a deal with the man who can save their skin. Raven has to put her personal feelings to the side in order to fulfill her end of the bargain, but at this point, her thirst for power is considerably stronger than her need for affection from the opposite sex.
The Kitchen features an all-female art team, with Ming Doyle and Jordie Bellaire providing atmospheric, immersive interiors while Becky Cloonan illustrates beautiful covers that spotlight the blend of masculine and feminine elements that characterizes the story. The covers of the last two issues have encapsulated Raven’s journey in two striking images: #5’s cover is an ethereal close-up shot of Raven in her wedding dress, smoking a thick cigar as she stares forward with chilling intensity that contrasts heavily with the softness of her ensemble. Contrast is also the key element in Cloonan’s cover for #6, showing Raven seductively running her fingers through her hair while sprawled out on a bed littered with cash, bra exposed under her suit, whiskey in hand, with a shotgun at her side. The image radiates feminine sensuality, which plays off the masculine suit, whiskey, and shotgun to concisely detail the shift happening within the character.
Doyle’s exceptional artwork evokes the ’70s through design, understanding how small details like an elevated waistline for pants can do a lot reinforce a specific era. The Kitchen has some of the best hair-styling in comics right now, and Raven’s dramatic change in hairstyle halfway through this week’s issue symbolizes her deeper transformation. Doyle also has a sharp eye for cinematic framing, making The Kitchen feel especially ripe for adaptation. Using widescreen layouts for the opening sequence stretches out the individual moments as Tommy pulls Rob off the street and painfully murders him, and Masters fully trusts Doyle to capture the gravity of this moment without the need for dialogue.
That trust in his art team is one of the big things that makes Masters a rising star to be reckoned with; he understands that he can put a lot of the storytelling weight on Doyle and Bellaire and not lose any of the narrative’s impact. These two artists have developed a strong creative relationship working together on books like Mara and Quantum And Woody, and Bellaire’s talent for evoking mood through her palette makes her a perfect match for Doyle’s expressive linework. Doyle’s characters convey a huge range of emotions through their facial expressions and body language, and those feelings are amplified by Bellaire’s coloring. There’s also a subtle grainy texture to Bellaire’s rendering that mimics the look of a ’70s film, and that attention to artistic detail elevates the narrative. The Kitchen is all about women being in control, and as captivating as Masters’ story is, it wouldn’t hit nearly as hard without the rich visuals provided by his female art team.