Published on January 28th, 2015 | by JCDoyle0
The Dying & The Dead #1 – Review
Luckily for us Jonathan Hickman appears to have some time in his schedule to write another one of his creator owned series. And this first issue is a massive 60 pages of comic. No messing around from Hickman (although, dare I mention those final S.H.I.E.L.D. issues? It’s been a while)
This opening opus introduces the reader to two very different worlds and two very different leading characters. The first is the villain (I’ve accepted her role as presented but it may turn out differently further down the line), Annaliese, who gate crashes her sister’s wedding to break into a secret vault and steal a….something. It’s all very James Bond-ish and Annaliese is focused and ruthless although she shows a moments concern for her sister. But only a moment.
Remember that other Hickman series? Secret? Well this sequence could have easily fitted into that comic as the narrative style and visual aesthetic are very similar. There is a stark contrast between the wedding party and the infiltrating cult, best displayed through the use of simple single colour washes for the different groups of people. That is until they come together and the boundaries between the groups merge and the colour wash guidelines become mixed so the reader becomes disorientated. It’s a simple and affect technique that shows how easy it is to misread a situation or character. Is Annaliese the villain she is made out to be?
Then we get to meet Colonel James Canning who starts the adventure sat at the side of his wife’s death bed. From the very beginning of his introduction, Hickman makes sure that the reader understands the Colonel is more than a simple old man. His first conversation is with a pure white character (who is possible Death) who predicts the immediate future before inviting James to The City. Hickman then takes James and the reader on a journey into the wilderness and beyond as he introduces the other world element of this story. At this point the comic resembles Hickman’s other Image title East of West. There is a cast of mythic characters interacting with a simple human on an elaborate stage. The City conjures up memories of D’ni from the popular Myst games as if it had been designed by M C Escher. It’s over the top, pure fantasy indulgence and it stands out more juxtaposed against the espionage opening.
The Dying & The Dead is a mix of ideas all presented in a very cinematic way. The scene between the Colonel and The Bishop screams of old German Expressionist cinema with The Bishop drifting in and out of the shadows and James making only subtly movements in the foreground. Their setting at this point becomes irrelevant and it’s the simple gestures of hands and faces that accentuates the importance of the speech. This is where Hickman really excels and where Ryan Bodenheim really captures the essence of the script. One of the downsides to Hickman’s style of writing is that it can leave the reader with the impression the art work is there simply to fill up the space on the page but with an artist like Bodenheim on board, the words and images sit side by side with equal importance.
As I have already stated, this is a massive first issue and a lot of The Dying & The Dead world is introduced over the course of its pages but surprisingly the most stand out element of the comic is the character of the Colonel. We learn a lot about his personality and how far he is willing to go to achieve his own ends. Don’t be under any illusion, The Bishop may have summoned him to The City but it was exactly where he wanted to go. James Canning is in complete control of his destiny and he is willing to risk it all to control the destiny of his wife.
I’m a fan of Hickman’s work and this title has gotten off to an amazing start. The fact it runs to 60 pages is a bonus, especially with Hickman’s work as it gets a lot of the introductions out of the way in the first issue. If you are new to his writing, be prepared for a lot of speech and characters philosophising but there is a balance. And all of it is illustrated with finesse which on the one hand appears ridged with precise panel definition but on the other hand it has a picturesque cinematic style.
This comic is for anyone who loves their enigmatic fantasy to crash headlong into their real world drama, kind of like Beastmaster 2; only better. Obviously.
Title: The Dying &The Dead
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Ryan Bodenheim
Colourist: Michael Garland