The opening scene of the first issue Deathwish mini series has Lt. Martin Rahm working off-duty on a case in which a perpetrator is assaulting and in some instances murdering women working as prostitutes. Rahm comes across the assailant’s two latest targets, Dini and a friend, in an abandoned building in the waterfront area of Dakota in the formerly separate Milestone universe. Rahm loses the assailant and crosses paths with Deathwish, a masked vigilante. Deathwish proffers to Martin the life changing revelation that he is “one of the girls” before vanishing. Dini provides the first bit of info about the man, calling him Boots because of the silver-tipped boots he wears.
Jump ahead four years and Martin has undergone some hormone treatment and therapy to transition into Marisa (Maddie) Rahm, “the first pre-operative trans[gender] [see footnote] police lieutenant the city has ever employed.” Fellow officers treat her with contempt though the transformation has only earned more respect from her commander, referred to as either Skipper, Skip, and Gil. Gil wants Maddie off the Seaport murder case (see above) and informs her that Internal Affairs suspects her dating one of the witnesses. A photo of Dini is produced, but Maddie denies dating her though internal monologue tells us they’re lovers and living together.
Convinced that Deathwish will provide valuable information to solve the case, Marisa bribes a guard in order to visit him in prison. It comes at the price of Marisa telling the story of her transition which as we see in flashback starts with Martin visiting Dini to check on her well-being. These visits in turn become both confessional and revelatory for Martin who accepts his gender identity does not match the physical body. The acceptance ends Martin’s marriage and in many ways, Martin’s life as changes are made in subtle and physically obvious ways as he transitions into Marisa and a life with Dini.
Marisa and Dini’s personal lives together has its ups and downs. They have nicknames for each other and Dini tries to be supportive of Marisa’s case involvement by buying her a computer to make case notes. Dini often tells Marisa that she needs Marisa to look in her eyes and not fixate on the scar that Boots inflicted her. Dini also dreams of a new life for them both in Paris. Marisa pays lip service to Dini’s dream but her dedication (or obsession) with solving this case ultimately overshadows everything between them.
The skipper interrupts a quiet dinner for Marisa and Dini to inform her that an urgent tip about Boots needs to be investigated. What it leads to is a grim scene of three dead trans people whose bodies have been placed in a tableaux to imitate Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. Boots fled the scene but three of his henchmen weren’t as quick. Marisa catches up with them, severely beating them while reading their rights.
Meanwhile, Deathwish, who escaped from prison shortly after Marisa’s visit, is out on the prowl. He bursts into a cheap motel room to terrorize a man who picked up a trans person in a bar. To complicate police matters for Marisa, she’s been assigned a new partner, a man named Kevin Thorne who graduated from the police academy with Marisa many years ago before her transition. It’s a bad match despite the captain’s order for Thorne to assist Rahm in any way. Thorne’s best quality is his obnoxious, patronizing character, the worst is his transphobia. It’s a recipe for tragedy.
Boots and crew continue their spree by murdering several women from another of Dakota’s “Houses.” Much later that night an unexpected phone call interrupts a fight between Marisa and Dini. The argument is again about Marisa’s obsession, and the caller only makes it worse. It’s Deathwish, demanding a meeting. Of course Marisa sets out into the stormy night against her lover’s wishes. The vigilante warns Rahm that events concerning the case are fast reaching an end and for her to join him in his self styled mission, believing “[she] know[s] me very well…We are the same.”
Deathwish recounts the tragedy of Pentheus, a Theban king who, for reasons that vary some by account, tried to suppress the cult and rituals of Dionysus. The Greek god lured the king with deception to disguise himself as a woman (in one account) so he could spy on the Maenads (female worshippers) during a secretive ceremony. Pentheus was discovered and his disguise penetrated. He was torn to pieces as the sacrifice in the sparagamos ritual. The name Pentheus means “man of sorrows”, deriving from penthos meaning sorrow or grief, especially that caused by the death of a loved one. The implication that her life will be torn apart if she isn’t careful sadly proves to be true in a more tragic way than she could imagine.
Approximately two years before the Deathwish mini series, Rachel Pollack dealt with issues of gender identity by incorporating themes of the Greek tragedy of Teiresias in “The Teiresias Wars” in which her character Coagula played a central role. The writer of the Deathwish mini was also transgender like Pollack. Blaustein preferred to be called Maddy.
As Deathwish warned, things are fast coming to a head. Dini confides her concerns with Linda, a friend and formerly married to an officer. As they walk away we’re given a visual clue that Boots is stalking Dini. Later that night Marisa and Thorne are staking out a bar when she notices a couple of Boots’ men enter a club; Marisa calls for backup. Even in a crowded bar the two cops stand out and hell breaks loose when one of the goons grabs a hostage. Thorne disarms him by tossing a well-aimed bar tray and Marisa pounces on him. Deathwish crashes through a skylight and shoots Thorne, shouting “This is for you, Marisa” and escapes capture by the backup officers. As issue #3 shows, Thorne recovers from being shot. The issue closes by showing Boots menacingly watching an oblivious Dini.
Two weeks have passed since the club incident when issue #3 begins. The stress has reached on a new level and Marisa is having a nightmare in which Deathwish acts as puppeteer pulling the strings of a grinning Boots decked out in black corset, panties and fishnet stockings. He defies her to either blow his brains out or hers. Then she confronts and kills a dream Martin, who is revealed to be wearing the same lingerie concealed under Marisa’s trademark trenchcoat. Marisa wakes and Dini at first tries to console her, then once again begs her to quit and move to Paris “[they]’ll rule!” but it only leads a to a terrible argument.
More time passes. It’s now July 8th, the women’s fourth anniversary and an exceptionally hot day. While at the precinct, Marisa is in the middle of an intimate conversation on the phone with Dini. Because of the heat she’s wearing a short skirt and sleeveless top. Once the call is finished a trio of her fellow officers begin to ridicule Marisa and one of them reaches to lift up her skirt. No longer able to ignore the years of verbal abuse, Marisa punches the man in the face and then resigns from the force.
Cut away and we see Boots has murdered to create another of his sordid works. A close up of an ominous sketch included Dini’s figure. Indeed, Boots abducts Dini as she is getting ready for her celebration with Marisa. At the same time, Marisa is trying to pick out a dress (Linda is helping too) and becomes concerned about Dini being late. A handwritten note sent with flowers during the abduction scene indicates the plan had been for Dini to meet Marisa at the clothing boutique at 10 PM.
They walk back to Marisa’s apartment to find no one there and discover an “invitation” to attend a drag ball at the House of Boots. Marisa is pushed over the edge into the abyss. She gives herself a buzz cut, pulls off fake eyelashes, and steps into leather gear pulled from somewhere, creating a similar look to Deathwish.
Most of the narration in the final issue is provided by a captive Dini. An opening flashback scene gives a glimpse into her life when she was the top diva of the House of Luna at a ball celebrating her. This night is also her first encounter with Boots. He attempts to rape her during a quiet moment on a nearby pier (remember all the houses seem to be in the Seaport district). Dini knees him hard in the crotch and laughs at him. A second flashback later in the story reveals that Dini lets Boots become her pimp. Back in the present, Deathwish appears to Dini in the room where she’s being held. Dini’s clearly scare but no words are exchanged. The scene cuts to Marisa in her black leather garb and Linda, somewhat comically dressed in her attempt to pull of a suitable look, are waiting to enter Neverland, the bar indicated in the invitation.
Realizing that the bouncers (who’re dressed in Boots’ pseudo Nazi military drag) will stop her, Marisa abandons Linda in favor of a more “hands on, through the back door” approach via the roof where she encounters a couple of oversized thugs. A hidden Deathwish observes with binoculars her swift and brutal handling.
As Marisa is finishing on the roof, the scene changes back to Dini, who is now handcuffed to a radiator. Deathwish is presumably responsible for chaining her, though the reason is unclear to me. Sensing an opportune moment, Dini plucks a bobby pin from her hair and picks open the handcuffs, and makes her escape, unknown of course to Marisa. She does come across a note from Deathwish reading “It’s time, kiddo” placed next to a .57 Magnum.
A downpour has started and Dini is caught wandering the streets in it. A car approaches her. The driver rolls down the window. It’s Thorne, Marisa’s last partner. He calls Dini by her birth name (Estafan Torres), a clue from the writer that Thorne has had his own secret obsessions. Thorne tells Dini that Marisa sent him to look for her (we know she didn’t). Exhausted, she gets in the car.
Meanwhile, Marisa continues to search the building. She enters a room and finds a figure seated at a vanity table. From the back it appears to be Dini. Instead it’s Boots wearing a wig that looks like Dini’s hair. A fight ensues, and Deathwish again appears out of nowhere, helping Marisa get the upper hand though she abruptly turns the gun over to Boots with the order to “Blow your brains our or blow out mine.” Boots kills himself.
The story drew to a quick close. Deathwish is apprehended by the police off panel. A police officer drives Marisa and Linda to the scene of another crime, one committed by Thorne when he attacked and murdered Dini. Blaustein gives no clear indication for a motive, perhaps to reflect the senselessness of hatred for and violence against trans people. However, during the stakeout scene in issue #2, Thorne comments about a couple of trans people walking by that “Given the right sitch I might do those guys myself!” Perhaps he attempted to rape Dini and she fought back.
Marisa is finally brought back to her senses by Dini’s death. To honor Dini’s dream, she travels to Paris. In the closing scene she’s talking with another woman (possibly a trans woman given a visual clue from the jacket she wears which is the same as one Dini had). When asked by the woman if she’ll stay in Paris, Marisa blankly replies, “I dunno..” Dini’s silent narration appears again. She says “Happy birthday, Hort! (a nickname for Marisa) Just blow out the candles and make a wish. Te amo.”
Marisa and Dini may have been comics first trans couple. Rahm appeared in Hardware #26 – 28 after the mini series ended.
Footnote: At the time that Blaustein wrote this story about Marisa and Dini that the term “transsexual” was in accepted use. Should you ever read this mini series, you should know that Blaustein also used a noun in a line of dialog for Dini that is considered a slur today. Blaustein did not use the word in a disparaging way. Were she alive today she might instead have used “transgender” to describe Marisa and considered rewriting Dini’s bit of dialog.
Marisa Rahm and Dini Torres were created by Maddy Blaustein and J H Williams III. Art by Williams, Jimmy Palmiotti, and J Brown.
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