ADVANCE REVIEW! Dead Man’s Run #1 will go on sale Wednesday, January 18, 2012. Dead Man’s Run #0 is already out.
Aspen is a publisher whose output I only know of but have never taken time to read, but from what I can gather from the house ads within this book, a majority of their output is HEY LOOK TITS. As one of the few Aspen releases to not tantalize with the false promise of nip slips, Dead Man’s Run is more than worth a look on that basis alone. It helps that it’s a pretty good comic, too.
Dead Man’s Run is brought to us in part by Valhalla Entertainment, a company owned by Terminator, Hulk and Walking Dead producer Gale Anne Hurd, which is the kind of thing that immediately puts me on the defense. It’s easy to make assumptions — now that it’s common knowledge that some people just make comics as glorified movie pitches — and it’s easy to see Dead Man’s Run as a proof of concept released commercially to at least get a fanbase of comics readers going just in case the property gets some heat in Tinseltown. But outside of this paragraph I’m gonna ignore any transmedia intentions because I like writer Greg Pak and his involvement with this book was the reason I checked out these opening issues to begin with.
The concept of Dead Man’s Run is high, and I wish it were a bit more pronounced on the (great, moody) covers of these issues because I wouldn’t just have to rely on creator recognition to be interested in the book. Anyway, Dead Man’s Run follows Sam, a young cartographer who gets in a car wreck and wakes up in a futuristic prison that’s actually Hell — the same Hadean prison he’s been mapping out. So, to find his lost sister, he starts staging a plot to break out of Hell. Which is a great premise, like Dante’s The Great Escape, and an easy pitch to get readers interested.
Opening with a striking image of a dying man covered in gold bricks, Greg Pak scripts a solid read, and really takes to the “Hell as prison drama” concept complete with the requisite Screws and fellow inmates who want to shank him. It’s surprisingly grounded for having a streak of the supernatural (to say the least), but I think that balance works in its favor, especially if it wants to hit that broad easy sell Y: The Last Man territory. Somehow subtly demonic prison guards feels right.
Tony Parker, who drew the Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? pseudo-adaptation for BOOM! Studios, handles the art on Dead Man’s Run. Parker’s art has promise, capable of delivering some pretty good panels and decent facial expressions but it feels not quite ready for prime time. I’m placing partial blame on David Curiel’s computer colors, which attempt to add shade and extra definition to Parker’s linework to the point of overcoloring and ultimately overcompensation. Dead Man’s Run #0 colorist Peter Steigerwald doesn’t have the same problem, but Parker’s linework is way more detailed and jagged and effective in that issue. It’s hard to tell if Curiel just smoothed over Parker’s linework in the course of coloring #1, or of Parker rushed his art for the first issue, or both.
As you might expect, Dead Man’s Run #1 is another opening issue full of setup, but to its credit it really gets down to business: Sam gets to Hell by Page 7 and announces his plans to escape by the final page. A more decompressed comic might hit each beat at the very end of each issue: #1 would introduce Sam’s regular life and end with him falling into Hell, then #2 would explore prison life and end with Sam deciding to break out. Thankfully this isn’t the case.
What you might not expect is that Dead Man’s Run #0 is actually essential to your reading of the series, as it establishes a few things that keep readers out of the dark once they get to #1. Typically Zero issues are some mildly relevant short story and a bunch of concept sketches to pad out the rest of the book. This issue actually features an incredibly relevant prequel story that explains just how the guy at the beginning of the story ended up crushed by his loot and just what the nature of the prison is. I’d have preferred a double-sized first issue or a flashback later down the line. As it is, anyone interested in the series will find it worthwhile to spend the extra $2.50 on the #0.
Ultimately, the opening issues of Dead Man’s Run leaves me annoyed. Not because of any perceived lack of quality (I actually quite liked it), but because now I might have to start following another series in my already kinda bloated reading list. Thanks a lot, Greg.
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions), film/music critic for Spectrum Culture and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter at @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his comic, “Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men,” over at Champion City Comics and check out his other comics at his Tumblr, Sequential Fuckery.