COMIC REVIEW: THE DYING AND THE DEAD #1

Sometimes a comic book comes along that exceeds expectations, but not necessarily for the reasons you might think. The title of this book suggests either a weighty treatise on the nature of death or another zombie story. As writer Jonathan Hickman has tackled an alternative history of WWII (The Manhattan Projects), a dystopian Western with religious overtones (East of West) and various Marvel stories (Fantastic Four, Avengers) I wasn’t sure what I’d get, only that it would be interesting.

““TODAY, TOMORROW, THE GRAVE” A murder at a wedding reveals a fifty year-old secret. At great cost, a man with a dying wife is given the opportunity to save her. A lost tribe is reborn in another time. All seemingly disparate events which force relics from the Greatest Generation to come together for one last mission”

Sounds intriguing? Issue #1 is 58 pages of intriguing. The story starts off in 1969 with an older-looking and obviously rich man marrying a younger looking woman. Ah, is that the story…? There is no dialogue, only narration, for quite some time. The tone has gravitas – weighty then. Love, life and all that jazz. However, it is the presentation style and art that surprises. Ryan Bodenheim’s art is simply great. Bodenheim and Hickman have worked before on Red Mass for Mars and Secret for Image. The Dying And The Dead is a creator-owned effort and it shows. There is a comfortable feeling to the comic book. The characters are drawn as they sound in my head. They are almost caricatures but have a real, lived-in look to them. There is a lovely panel with a reflection in a car window which shows you all you need to know about the style of the comic. However, it is the design over-all and the colouring by Michael Garland (also Red Mass for Mars and Secret) that really wow. Most pages are a single colour, or tone of colour, mostly with large curved panels. Occasionally, a different colour slips in to reflect a change of mood or atmosphere. And the Escher-like imagination displayed in the drawing of the City is very cool indeed. I’ve not seen anything like this before. The over-all look is as dramatic and startling is you might get in a comic.

The aforementioned murder is as graphic and brutal is you’d expect in an Image comic but I was pleasantly shocked at the events that subsequently unfolded. Some of the ideas we’ve seen elsewhere, such as the mystery in the box and the cult of worshipers – although it looks like they’ve been given an interesting visual aside which will hopefully become apparent in later issues. At this moment I want to congratulate the creators for the scenes where the aircraft land. It is a rare joy that story-telling is told slowly and carefully in comics. These scenes add nothing to the plot but exhibit crucial atmosphere and pacing. Hickman isn’t in a hurry to tell the tale.

Now we move to another older character. A man and his cancer-ridden, dying wife. We’re introduced to Colonel James Edward Canning, a retired US army officer. But who is that with him in the hospital room and why the odd dialogue? More intrigue. Back at the funeral and who is that character and why does he look like he’s walked in off a 1970s exploitation film? Is he the narrator? The Colonel is then taken to a remote location underground location, and meets some odd characters who are definitely not what they seem. Here he is offered a deal to save his wife. We are told he is a man of honour, and a hero. This is the story then…

While the plot might appear to be a standard intriguing battle of tribes over a magic MacGuffin, the way it is told both narratively and visually is not something I’ve seen before. The look and feel of it is simply stunning. Really appealing. The use of older characters is cool too. It isn’t every day that a new comic subverts so many expectations and surpasses then too, giving the reader a taste of something different. I can’t wait for the next instalment in this story.

Title: The Dying And The Dead

Publisher: Image Comics

Rating: 5/5

Reviewer: Ian J Simpson

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