The reason I picked up the Dying and the Dead was a because a friend of mine recommended it, sort of. You see, he’s a fan of Jonathan Hickman’s work, and he missed it, finding out only after he had received his shipment of comics for the month (I myself shop in a brick-and-mortar store; I like to support my local retailers). So this meant that I could get my hot little hands on it before him and give him my opinion, and kind of rub his nose in it a little. But seriously, I liked what I had heard about it, and my friend made it sound exciting.
First impressions of the book are overall pretty good. The art by Ryan Bodenheim is really good stuff. He’s an artist who has his own vibe, his own style. And I’m a big fan of any artist that can render backgrounds, and make each one look realistic and unique for each new locale. I’ve always said that one of the most overlooked aspects of comic book art is the rendering of backgrounds. It’s one of the easiest ways to give a book depth and believability. Needless to say, Bodenheim does a good job in this department.
The book follows the Colonel, a gruff and gritty veteran that seems to have had experience dealing with things that are, let’s say, out of the ordinary. As the story unfolds, we find out that he has had past experience with the Stark White, an overly pompous race of, well, we’re not really sure what they are at this point. Imagine a cross between an elf and a Nosferatu-style vampire. They are hiring him because the bad guys, who seem to be really into cloning, are up to something bad–very bad–and they need the Colonel’s help to fix it. In return, they will cure his wife who is ill with cancer. I love the fact that the Elferatu consider it a very dangerous problem that threatens their own existence, but can’t bring themselves to get overly involved with solving the problem. Now this might sound like a slip up in writing, but it’s actually a play on how dull and boring the day-to-day lives of an extremely long-lived race might be. They find it hard to give two red cents about what’s happening because, frankly, they’ve seen a million dangerous things come and go in their long existence, and they’re still standing.
The bad guys have a Nazi feel to them, if the Nazis were run by an unchecked Dr. Mengele. In one shot we see a bunch of the bad guys chanting, and they all look alike–clones? Seems like it at the moment. Now I’m of the camp that believes if you are ever in need of a great villain, use a Nazi. Nothing represents pure evil quicker than having your bad guys look and act like them. You can convey huge amounts of information about who and what certain characters are like simply by modeling them after Nazis.
The book has a very good supernatural vibe to it. The visual impression I got, mixed with the story, made me think of a mash up of your typical noir hard-nosed Detective, meets Tolkien, meets horror movie rolled into one. Whether that lasts as the story unfolds remains to be seen, but so far it’s a strong enough story to make me interested in seeing where they are planning to go with it. I want to find out more about the Albino vampire elves, and I’m really interested to see if the Colonel is as no-nonsense as he seems to be.
If there is one complaint I have about the book, it’s this: in the promotional blurbs talking about the story, it mentions the greatest generation, and how the book follows the last adventure of one of them, or something to that effect. If this is true, then that means our hero is an elderly man, and one who is entering the twilight of his life. Now I do realize that there might be a reason he’s not affected by his advancing years that will be revealed later, which of course would clear things up, but I hope they handle it right.
There was a book released a couple years ago from Image called Sunset. In that book, the hero, another elder statesman who was doing one arm push ups and shown to be in better shape than most guys half his age. While that’s fine, it rips away the potential for such great storytelling. Having an older character is great, but don’t take away from him what would make him great to read about. Saying he works out every day and has taken care of himself is still just silly. If your character needs to do things like whip a bunch of guys’ butts, or jump around doing parkour, then your character shouldn’t be an old guy, but if he is, you’d better have a good reason for why he can do it. Use the challenges he has to make the story better. Let’s say our elder statesman has to pull a stakeout, and watch a house for a while, wouldn’t it be so much more interesting watching him have to deal with his constant need to urinate? Or having him painfully making sure of picking his location to confront a target, because there is no way he will be able to chase after him? We tend to think automatically just because someone is older, they are no longer interesting or capable, which is far from the truth, they just go about doing things differently. We will see if this is the case here, and I hope it’s not. In the end, I think this book is worth trying out if you’re a fan of urban fantasy stories. I’ll read it because the colonel has a great Clint Eastwood/Dirty Harry vibe to him, and I like that.