COMIC REVIEW: The Dying and The Dead: Special Edition TP

In 2015, prolific comic book writer Jonathan Hickman teamed up with artist Ryan Bodenheim (Red Mass for Mars, Fear Itself) to release issue 1 of the unusual The Dying and The Dead. Which I loved. It was like nothing I’d read or more importantly, seen before. It created a new mythology and showed it in a manner I’d not seen comes across in years of reading comic books. After 3 issues, the project seemed to have disappeared. Now, those first 3 issues are collected in this Special Edition as issue #4 is released. Excited!

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.

Why the fuss? This comic series is, as I mentioned, a new mythology on Earth. High in concept and in depth of meaning. There is an ancient and mysterious place inhabited by god-like beings known as the City. They appear to be aloof and indifferent but have an interest in human affairs. They are cold yet oddly empathetic with the human characters. Talking of which, this story begins with some humans in Greece in 1969. A wedding is interrupted by a gang of masked gunmen. There is an item being sought. There is a betrayal, maybe. Then the credits role. Because this is a cinematic story. Told slowly and carefully with large wide panels in many cases. We now meet our protagonist: a man is with his wife in hospital. She is dying of cancer; the doctors can do no more. An odd-looking chap tells our man that The Bishop wants to see him. And now we’re in Germany and what appear to be clones are chanting “Bah al’Sharur”. And so the intrigue begins.

While the art is beautifully detailed and as such, perfect for the slow pace of the story, it is the colouring (from Michael Garland (All-new Wolverine)) that raises the eye-brow. The majority of panels – and indeed pages – are monotone or at least similarly muted in tone. Pages have 4 or 5 panels, with rounded edges and with the colour reflecting the mood of the particular story; the wedding in sepia; the bloodbath and other scenes of trepidation in reds; hospital scenes in washed out greens. On occasion, the characters are in black and white or grey while the backgrounds are in a single colour. The overall effect is beguiling and hooks you in. It indicates a thoughtful style of storytelling and a different way of looking at the pages of a comic book.

As the story progresses through this edition, you pick up cues from the art and colour. There is no holding back when violence or strong emotions is portrayed, giving a bit of heft to the story. Our protagonist is some kind of Colonel and is taken to the City. Our first view of which is a delight. An incredible double-paged spread of imagination. He then makes a deal with The Bishop concerning his wife, and starts to round up his old comrades (old being the key).

It isn’t very insightful to say that Hickman and Bodenheim are thinking about old age and death and how it is perceived, but the subtlety and inventiveness of the storytelling is unusual in this medium. The idea of the mysterious cult of clones and the inhabitants of the City who have been with humanity throughout its history isn’t a particularly new idea but the thought that we’re not sure whose side we’re on – if any – is something new. And it even finds a way of showing the corruption of man into monsters in a familiar – if original – way too (see Chapter 3). There is so much to take from The Dying and The Dead in terms of comic books as a medium to tell a story and in appreciation of artwork. Read this and then get your hands on issue #4.

Title: The Dying and The Dead

Publisher: Image Comics

Rating: 4.5/5

Reviewer: Ian J Simpson

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