Writer & Letterer: Erica Schultz
Artist: Carola Borelli
Colorists: Gab Contreras & Tom Chu
Cover Artists: Adriana Melo & Cris Peter
Price: April 12, 2023
Release Date: $16.99
Poppy awakens early in the morning, the day after Valentine’s Day. She picks up her ringing phone on her bedside table. Her sister Rose tells her that their mother died. She’s just found Jasmine’s bloody body on the floor of her flower shop. What happens next? Let’s dig into The Deadliest Bouquet Trade Paperback and find out!
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Poppy flies from California to New Jersey to comfort her sister. That evening, their remaining sister Violet arrives from Europe. While the police discuss the evidence—and a tattoo on Jasmine Hawthorne’s hand—the sisters try to cope with their loss. Instead, childhood issues arise. They nearly come to blows, and Rose throws a knife to prevent Violent Vi from storming out. Poppy’s husband arrives, accompanied by children Aster and Holly. As an attorney, Derek Winterberry wants to help. But Poppy wants him and the children to stay at the hotel. Her mother’s death brings back memories of her abusive father and how he died.
Their obsessive mother trained them in self-defense. Like Gamora and Nebula, competition and family dynamics drove them apart. Poppy tried to remake her life by marrying Derek and moving across the United States. While she’s raising two fun-loving children, Poppy’s secretive nature leads to constant arguments with Derek. Violet left home even earlier, and her violent life remains a secret. As in the parable of the Prodigal Son, Rose remained at home to assist her mother in the Hawthorne flower shop. She blames Poppy and Violet for abandoning her, forcing her to play caregiver to their troubled mother.
Erica Schultz also introduces us to Police Detective Bayani and Officer Gutierrez. Their investigation into Jasmine’s death will raise questions about an unresolved murder twenty years ago, as both bullets came from a Nazi pistol. While I wish I’d seen more of these two, Schultz keeps her sights on Poppy, Rose, and Violet. She interweaves present-day discussions and fights with poignant and painful flashbacks that show why the girls grew up as damaged–and yet as strong–as they’ve become. It’s a talky book, but the drama never seemed overdone. The story speaks to essential truths regarding family dynamics and behaviors that lead to dysfunctional ones. Plus, while these three little girls never went to the Police Academy, they’ve mastered enough self-defense techniques to work for Charles Townsend. They display those many times in The Deadliest Bouquet Trade Paperback.
While the story is set in 1998–shortly after the British comedy Keeping Up Appearances aired its final episode–Rose and Violet look nothing like Hyacinth Bucket’s sisters. They may have the same names, but Violet’s slim features and flowing hair resemble a supermodel. She’s also got a supermodel’s prima donna temperament and outlook. Rose’s hairstyle kept reminding me of Wilma Flintstone, the woman Lister and Cat (aboard the Jupiter Mining Corporation’s Red Dwarf) called The Most Desirable Woman Who Ever Lived. Poppy resembles your typical Got It Together mom, even if that gradually proves untrue.
The rest of Carola Borelli’s characters are attractive if drawn with less verve and personality. The exception is Jasmine Hawthorn, who often appears slightly unhinged in flashbacks. The family house reminded me of the Halliwell sisters’ Victorian San Francisco home on TV’s Charmed. The home’s interiors–and glimpses of New Jersey–always appealed. Overall, the art suggests an Archie comic or a daily newspaper strip. Gab Contreras & Tom Chu paint The Deadliest Bouquet Trade Paperback with bright and bold colors. Their broad palettes combine well, and the characters stand out. Shadows and highlights lend realism. Indoor lights glow. Numerous flashbacks, while faded, are equally attractive. One could argue the differences between Contreras’ first three issues and Chu’s #4 and 5, but they’re minor.
Apart from an abandoned subplot and an abrupt ending, my main complaint is with Erica Schultz’s lettering. Her uppercase lettering may be too small for easy reading in print. I like how she embeds sound effects like Sniff and Koff into her dialogue balloons and suggests intonation with bold letters. Still, I wish she had not frequently faded the already-small lettering for lowered voices. What should have proven a triumph–matching offscreen dialogue with a flower and matching border color in rectangular dialogue balloons—kept confusing me. The yellow flowers belonged to Rose, yet I kept linking them with Violet’s hair. I also wished she had made the red poppy orange, symbolic of Poppy’s adoptive state. (I kept confusing flowers with sisters as I wrote this. Hopefully, I stated all this correctly). Still, I had no trouble linking the orange shield with Detective Bayani, and Shultz’s frequent sound effects enhanced her story.
Family secrets and dysfunctional relationships lead to tragedy for the three sisters in The Deadliest Bouquet Trade Paperback. Erica Schultz and company deliver a buoyant story filled with likable and relatable characters that—while probing and truthful—never loses momentum to sink into a pool of misery.