Cinema works in cycles. If a film in a certain genre makes money, then there are going to be more of them. Mob movies may not currently be en vogue but the new movie featuring Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Hadish, and Elisabeth Moss is a comic book film. The Kitchen comic first debuted from the now-defunct DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint. It tells the tale of how three women in 1970s Hell’s Kitchen took over their husbands’ criminal enterprises after they are sent to jail. The story tries its best to be an examination of how three women can turn from housewives and mothers into violent gangsters. With the help of experienced hitman Tommy, the three women form their own syndicate that takes on the Italian mafia and other criminal organizations in their pursuit of the big score.
The Characters in the Kitchen Comic
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As mentioned, the three main characters are the wives of connected guys who all get sent up the river. Kath and Raven are sisters, while Angie is a close friend. With their husbands incarcerated, they start collecting protection money and other payoffs for them. Of course, they don’t get the same respect that the men do. When a guy named Franky comes up short on a payment, he slaps Kath for demanding he pay what he owes. Something insider her snaps, and she pistol-whips him into a coma and shoots off part of her ear. Sadly, Franky is the brother of a “made” guy, and that means these women just made themselves targets. When another criminal tries to blackmail them for it, their friend Tommy steps in. Tommy is a hitman just released from prison. He joins up with the all-female crew, teaching them what he knows.
Without spoiling what happens too much, the characters all go through significant changes in the Kitchen comic. Kath is the leader, at first, driving her fellow wives into this life of crime. Her sister Raven, initially reticent to join her, eventually finds out she was born for this life. Finally, Angie sticks close to Tommy and discovers that she has a skill for killing. She becomes the fearsome enforcer on the crew and ultimately becomes the one who dispense the ultimate justice to both enemies and former allies. Sadly, the eight-issue mini-series doesn’t really spend much time examining why these characters undergo these changes. That’s an opportunity missed by writer Ollie Masters, to examine not just how this life changes these women but why. We don’t get much of this characterization in male-led mob stories, either, in fairness.
How the Movie Differs from the Comic
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Melissa McCarthy will play Kathy Brennan, the only character from The Kitchen comic to make a direct jump from page to screen. Tiffany Haddish will play Ruby O’Carroll, who seems like she might be a stand-in for Raven. Obviously she won’t be Kath’s biological sister, but she may still fill the same role. Elisabeth Moss plays Claire, who also might be a combination of both Angie and Raven’s character. She asks Domhnall Gleason’s Gabriel O’Malley, the movie stand-in for Tommy, to teach her how to be a killer. He is also her love interest. Added into the cast is Common as an FBI agent. Margo Martindale also appears as Helen O’Caroll, a woman who apparently “runs” the Irish Mob. This is a questionable choice because if the Irish mob already has a woman at the top, the three main characters are less remarkable.
While we won’t know how the film ends until it debuts on August 9, your humble correspondent would be surprised if it keeps the dark ending of the comic. There is no question the story and the imagery evoked by Ming Doyle’s truly beautiful art carries with it a feminist message. Still, the end of the comic series ultimately evokes the idea of how a life of crime does not pay. One has to wonder if Andrea Berloff will give her characters similar ends or if she gives them an escape hatch not available to the comic’s characters.
The comic tells a story about how these women easily slip into a life of violent crime, but ultimately come to the same end as most men who adopt it. The most interesting change comes via Haddish’s character who will bring an examination of race into the study of what this life is like.
Is the Kitchen Comic Worth Reading?
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At just eight issues, the comic itself is definitely worth the hour or two it would take you to read it. It tells a gripping story full of incredible visuals and fun twists. We may not always understand why the characters change the way they do. But, to see it happen is still compelling. The comic spends very little time figuring out how these women balance their lives as single mothers and crime bosses, but that seems to be a pacing decision. Traditional mob movies explain this away by having the mobsters’ wives be stay-at-home parents trying to keep their families separated from the violence. These characters do not have the luxury, but, perhaps appropriately, they just do it. (Save for one scene in which one of their husbands, released from jail, involves the kids in his battle with his wife for his old territory.)
The early reviews of the movie offer a mixed picture of whether it’s a satisfying or frustrating tale. Still, with this much star power in a film that both feels familiar and fresh, it will likely do very well. The Kitchen comic is one that seemed ripe for cinematic adaptation the moment it was published. Whether or not the film executes (pun intended) on that vision remains to be seen. But whether the film is a triumph or a mess, the source material is worth your time. The Kitchen comic is available to read as a trade paperback and on the Comixology app.
Watch the trailer for the film below:
What do you think of the Kitchen? Will you see the movie? Will you read the comic? Tell us in the comments below or by sharing the article on social media.
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Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.