Dead Once Again

Deadman #1

Conception and death… cause and effect… are they really one and the same? No beginning…no ending… no actual living… no real dying…? If the living can forget… can the dead remember?

That’s from the first captions (save for the introductory quotes-by-famous-folk) of this new Vertigo ongoing series. There’s more ellipses in there than my average message board post, and it gives the whole thing sort of a ‘50s C-movie vibe. Can’t you just hear Criswell flawlessly landing every dramatic pause as the camera slowly pans across gorgeous Bronson Canyon? It’s got that special nonsense texture - the weight of portentous authority behind every drifting question. You half expect to see a man shamble around in a junk shop monster suit at any moment, though this particular instance of narration is actually accompanied on the comics page by an airplane smashing into a building. Can’t escape that old spookshow vibe, though.

Writer Bruce Jones is no stranger to such pursuits. He did script a fair amount of horror comics back in the day (one of which was recently adapted by director Dario Argento into his initial Masters of Horror episode Jenifer, now out on dvd), but even as modern a pursuit as Deadman bears a certain anxious concern with the weird unknown. Oh, it tries hard to roll out concerns of family rivalry and things like that, but really the thrust of this first issue is evident from that opening narration, a somewhat stogy dive into glimpsing the Other Side and suddenly waking up in cool skin, scaring the shit out of poor hospital orderlies underwear-clad women alike. There’s even a little talk of “heavy gravity theory” and infinite parallel universes, just the sort of thing this kind of plot needs to really give it that special edge of tomfoolery.

Speaking of the plot, it concerns Brandon and Scott Cayce, two brothers in the cockpit of the aforementioned airliner. Brandon seems to be slipping in and out of dreams, while Scott pilots the plane. Although sometimes Brandon is piloting the plane too, though that might just be part of his reverie, which also includes childhood adventures, his father’s death, and the time Scott cheated with and subsequently married Brandon’s scientific genius girlfriend. Brandon and Scott have a nice conversation throughout the whole thing about the nature of life and death, except for the parts where Scott is trying to kill Brandon back in the cockpit. Needless to say, Brandon eventually winds up leaping back into his own pale, dead skin, since otherwise we wouldn’t have a Deadman comic. Future issues promise sex, string theory, parapsychology, and political conspiracy.

It’s pretty solid, given that we’re still in the setup stage. Of the other Bruce Jones comics that I’ve read, I’d say this sort of book is a vastly better fit for his brand of sometimes stilted dialogue than any of his superhero works; here, the more pronouncedly unreal atmosphere is more conductive to such things. And no, Deadman is certainly not a superhero book in this incarnation (not yet, at least), though the discovery of any connection to prior incarnations will have to come from folks more familiar than I with the old version, since all I know of that is the twee spin granted it by Neil Gaiman in Teddy Kristianson’s issue of Solo (#8). John Watkiss handles the art here, with a fittingly broody touch and lots of thick, dark lines, though Jeromy Cox’s colors sometimes give the character designs an oddly computer-rendered feel.

Still, it’s not bad, talking about both individual elements and the book as a whole. It’s all precisely the same as the sum of its parts, which I guess makes perfect sense, huh?