Billi 99

I was astounded by how impressive this graphic novel was, and I was stunned that I’d never before heard of it. (I only read it because we had a copy tucked away on a back shelf, a remnant of KC’s far-away days on the Dark Horse comp list.) Then I realized why it may have been overlooked: although technically a superhero book, it’s very different in tone and mood, and it’s focused on the female and community instead of the lone male.

Billi’s the daughter of a deceased industrialist who was also secretly the Sword of Toledo. At the same time she’s deciding whether to carry on his legacy, his company needs her stock in order to put off a takeover. They’ve been making business decisions based on ethics, not just money, and that luxury is in danger without a strong hand at the helm. Oh, and she’s suspected of murdering her father, just to add another complicating factor. Instead of using his money to do good, she’s hiding out, getting fired from low-paying waitress jobs for helping the hungry.

Sale’s art is wonderful, even in black-and-white (with plenty of grey). It’s moody and oppressive, just like the story’s setting. This is what the Huntress should have been, a story about next-generation legacies and a woman making her way in a man’s world. Think Batman: Year One, only more complex and nuanced. The superhero isn’t the sole focus; instead, she’s part of a larger society with concerns beyond the single person. The book is atypical in widening the viewpoint beyond the single vigilante.

The theme is ownership — what is ours, and what villains try to make theirs. There’s a singer in contractual slavery, a well-padded upper-class man picking up hookers he thinks disposable, Billi’s struggles with both of her inheritances from Dad, employees choosing between stock ownership and a strike. Classical allusions describe a world of individualism taken to the extreme. When everyone’s out for themselves, Billi’s selflessness is what sets her apart. She’s almost old-fashioned, although her story is told in a very modern, near-future setting.

This graphic novel is highly recommended for an unusual mature take on heroics.

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10 Responses to “Billi 99”

  1. Craig Says:

    Thanks for shedding light on this tpb. It really is a hidden gem. It’s a shame that more fans of Sale’s current work don’t hunt this down and devour it.

    Whatever happened to Sarah Byam (after writing that pretty mediocre Black Canary series she seems to have vanished…. or maybe I answered my own question there…)

  2. The Dane Says:

    Wow, I don’t know what to say. I read this about four years ago and thought it was dreadful. I think I even gave it 1.5 stars out of 4 back then. Granted, I’d like to think my tastes have matured in the last half-decade, but I still can’t suppress my shock at the accolades you grant here.

    I’m that kind of surprised that makes me wonder if I completely missed the point of the book. You really make me want to read it again to see which of us is more crazy :) Unfortunately, I took it and a stack of other 2 star or worse trades (several of which were Sin City books) down to my Local and handed them out for free to the first interested party. *sigh*

  3. Johanna Says:

    I know the feeling — there are well-praised books that make me want to say “are you crazy?” It would be interesting to see if your perspective had changed over the years, or whether we just brought different things to the work (and thus saw different things in it) — but I completely sympathize with wanting to clear out books I don’t expect to read again.

  4. one diverse comic book nation » THE SHORT STACK: Diversity On The ‘Net - January 22, 2007 Says:

    [...] Johanna Draper Carlson from Comics Worth Reading reviews Billi 99 – “This graphic novel is highly recommended for an unusual mature take on heroics.” [...]

  5. chasdom Says:

    My impression of this, both when it originally came out and again when it was reissued by Dark Horse, was that the story was derivative of the Christine Spar Grendel, and having the artist of the recently-completed Orion Assante Grendel series didn’t help that impression.

    Plus, the story, particularly the ending, comes off a bit amateurish. Kind of like early Little White Mouse in that way. There was some good potential there, but I was waiting to see what would come next from the creators. But like another commenter above said, that dreadful Black Canary series came next for Sarah Byam, and then nothing.

    At any rate, I still own the series many years after, and I have re-read it a few times, so I think that says something. It’s just never quite good enough for me to stuff in someone’s hands and say “here, you’re missing THIS!”

  6. Johanna Says:

    I’m afraid I’ve never read Grendel, so I can’t speak to similarities. I don’t remember the Black Canary series being that dreadful, either, so maybe I need to reread those.

  7. Gil Says:

    In Oakland CA about 6 months(Dec of 2010) ago.My friend was a stand in.In a filming of Billi 99.He was a teamster gangster type.He was called Big Guy for his part he played.Is this movie production ever going to be finished and release.

  8. Johanna Says:

    Is that movie based on the comic? I had no idea such a thing was in production, so I don’t have any other information, sorry.

  9. Gil Says:

    Hi Johanna, Yes,My friend told me it is based on the Comic.He said that he worked for a company that hired extras out of San Francisco.He just happened to be there that day watching the filming. When he and his friend were asked if they wanted to be in the movie as extras.The part he played was in the third volume of the comic.I’m not familiar with the story line.I will try to get my friend back on here to tell more about what he knows about this movie.

  10. BFox Says:

    All I can say is that the preproduction teaser trailer has been finished and is around… And yes, the feature film is in the works.

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