Friday, 30 January 2015

New Beginnings - The Dying and the Dead #1

by Matt Puddy

Truth be told when I got given the review copies for this week I was given a choice. On one hand there was The Dying and the Dead and a different comic on the other. So what do I do? Well given that it was also a Jonathan Hickman title I didn’t have too much trouble in choosing.

The Dying and the Dead is a curious story. It doesn’t really give a huge amount away in the opening; it's driven mainly by narrative and the setup is mainly introducing a mysterious organisation lead by an even shadowier Bah Al Sharur and his band of clones – at least that’s apparently what they are.

In the meantime we are also introduced to our “hero,” the Colonel. A man who in a similar fashion to the story’s opening is motivated by love of a woman but with considerably different consequences. Whereas one man died at the hands of his wife, the Colonel here is ready to die for her. As a terminal cancer patient there is almost nothing left of her, but he still has hope. Even when conventional medicine doesn’t seem to be able to provide anything more than palliative comfort and pain relief, a mysterious man offers a solution not based in science.

Almost as if it were a prophecy, The Bishop wants to speak to the Colonel and has an offer for him.

After being driven to the desert and a small unassuming church, the Colonel is taken to a vast extensive region simply known as the City, inhabited by a civilisation older and more powerful than humankind. To them the Colonel is just a tool; should he accept the deal he is being given then it will entail removing Bah Al Sharur. All in return for ridding his beloved from cancer.

Without it really being much of a choice the Colonel now has a new mission and companion. From here on it’s all down to the execution.

In terms of the writing, there are certain elements that I felt were really good. The opening felt like a mini-movie with either music or a narrator over the scene. On the other hand though I also felt that there was too much allusion to a higher power or a greater group of people behind it all in a large amount of the dialogue too. It quickly became distracting. One of the other things that did infuriate me a little was the story progression, or rather the lack there of. On the cover we see the Colonel and at least one companion with an interesting spear, but we have no clue about it. In addition there is a mysterious Pulp Fiction-esque box that was stolen in the preamble, that you have really no clue about. I understand that plot can take time to build up and develop intrigue, but a bit more description and better pacing would have helped.

Ryan Bodenheim is the artist for this comic working with Michael Garland and they've taken quite an interesting tack on it all. A lot is conveyed visually. All of the assumingly good guys are purely white, from top to toe in both dress and skin. This makes them stand out significantly in every pane;, while the other characters move and change within the frames. I can’t quite put my finger on why this changes things, but it all ties in with the emotional shifts the story holds. It’s a lot of fine detailed work that tells a lot of the story to - even when a few frames are partially duplicated.

It’s an interesting opening with some ideas that could pique a reader's interest, but some parts could have been made more. I suppose wanting more from it is also a good sign though despite the fact it's a huge and hefty comic for a modern issue. If you love Hickman, mysteries, the Illuminati or even just quest-based stories built on the concept that love endures then you’re in for some enjoyment.

Matt Puddy is often purely muddy, from top to toe.

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