I didn't know anything about the Executive Assistant series from Aspen Comics when I saw a slew of trades on the shelf of my local comic shop. In fact, all I really knew about Aspen is that it was named after the character in Fathom (or maybe vice versa), and that I was never really a fan of Michael Turner's anorexic clone-faced Barbies. Once I finally located the first volume, I flipped through it and saw some very pretty lettering, some nice looking Joe Benitez covers peppered in, and some interesting tattoo work on the main character, and sometimes, the look of something is enough to get you to take a chance on it. Sometimes, looks can be deceiving.
Executive Assistant: Iris is the first of several books about various highly-skilled scantily-clad slave-whore assassins trained from a young age by a Chinese Academy to be the perfect servants for the highest bidders. In the case of Iris, the top of the line model, she handles secretarial work, she fetches the tea, she gives herself to her boss, Mr. Ching, whenever he wants it, and she handles all his wetwork when business associates displease him. For quite a long while, Iris doesn't even bristle at the performance of her duties, which she's been doing for ages, going so far as to kill a loving father just because he disagreed with Ching about something.
It goes on long enough that I pushed past my initial disdain for the concept and the main character and thought writer David Wohl might need the benefit of the doubt – maybe he was building towards something less obvious than the eventual moral flare-up leading to rebellion against her master. Perhaps he was working on a harder-edged study of how disturbing it is when unscrupulous people take advantage of children and how difficult it is to overcome years of brainwashing.
But when all it takes is some cheap plot device – a charmless, boring, clueless doofus she is ordered to seduce for information but instead she falls in love with off-panel – to spark that obvious turn, there is no benefit of that doubt. I didn't buy any of her emotional arc at all. It all feels like a story-by-numbers, but with Wohl spending a lot more time on the #2 beat and not enough on #5. This is a book about half-naked pseudo-Suicide Girl karate chicks. If that's your thing, have at it.
Artist Eduardo Francisco has his strong moments (particularly the striking reveal of Rose, who is almost an interesting character for a moment, but then she dies immediately) and is pretty solid for the most part, but at no point does he match the life of Benitez's faces on the pin-ups collected in the back of the book, particularly his rendition of Iris on the cover of #4. I suppose that's an unfair comparison, one piece of cover art to a truckload of interior pages, but it still always feels a bit like a rip-off when a cover image (even though it's not on the cover of this trade) promises art that isn't delivered on the inside.
Overall, it's just a kind of uncomfortably creepy concept made all the skeevier by the lack of believability of the characters. It just winds up feeling like we're either watching somebody explore a fetish and tacking an 'oh, but she's badass' onto it to take the edge off of it, or just reading something aspiring to be something more than trashy and exploitative and not quite hitting the mark.