One way to avoid the mess that the Big Two comics publishers have created, with the question of how their 50-plus-years-old superheroes fit in with cellphones and internet, is to just go back in history. I’m surprised this hasn’t happened more. Alan Moore did it with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And we’ve had The Invaders set during WWII for a long time. And with Deathless, creators Christian Atley and Joe Blablazo (they share all the credits) have given us some superheroes way back in World War I, at the German/Denmark border.
As the title says, the main character of Deathless, Noah, can’t die. How or why isn’t explained, just hinted at, which I love. Writers and artists Christian Atley and Joe Blablazo (they share the credits for both) are two of those brave creative souls, like Greg Rucka, who trust their readers not to need any exposition, to plop us down in a story and give us enough good visuals and dialogue to keep us engaged, and that our questions and curiosities are part of what propels the narrative.
The best part of the story is that Noah is African. His specific country isn’t mentioned, though part of the subtext is that he comes from a tribe/place/culture that was around long before European-imposed borderlines.
Noah has a ‘team’—two mortal, American, white, friends. Dan looks the most superhero-ish of them, with an actual tight body suit and hood/cowl, and he’s the comedian, the wise-cracking snarky guy to Noah’s somewhat stoicness, although he has no special powers beyond just being a knife expert.
Patty is the more interesting sidekick, and the only one with a real superpower. Again, Atley and Blablazo aren’t going to give us too much background, so we don’t (at least at this point, in Volume 1) get any explanation, but Patty can breathe fire. She’s also maybe the sanest of the three, providing a nice balance to Dan’s motormouth and Noah’s tendency to just state the facts.
Also, Patty and some of the bad guys sport some steampunk-y clothes. Not enough to turn the story into an alternative-technology-history story, but enough to look cool.
That said, this WWI is filled with monsters, and magic. So many monsters in fact, that actually, at the beginning anyways, I felt the story leaning to farce and the absurd, which some people might like, but not me. Fortunately, the story straightened out into a story. It’s like Atley and Blablazo needed some time to experiment with the world and characters before the really knew what they story really was. Which is fine. They might have considered going back and cutting or revising, but from what I can tell, this was a crowd-sourced type project that was being created as the funds came in. So, Gentle Reader, don’t give up, go with the flow and farce-monsters at the beginning, the story will kick in and it will be worth the effort.
For example, at points when he’s wounded, Noah experiences flashbacks (and/or maybe visions) to his childhood, with his brother and a village priest/shaman. One of these flashbacks is quite long, becoming a story-within-a-story, and is visually amazing, incorporating some traditional African art and imagery and combining inks and modern coloring with pencils and watercolors.
One nice little detail, that actually leads to a bigger idea, is the nod to Post-Colonialism Theory: all those ‘monsters’ appearing in the world are, according to one of Noah’s myth/dreams, a result of “the forced exodus of our people to this land” (meaning Europe and/or or all ‘Western’ lands). That is, the horrors of slavery have returned to haunt the slavers.
This is an independently-created project, and is better than most of the Big Two superhero stuff coming out lately. The setting is unique, the story unique, the characters unique. An entertaining, fun, read. I get a sense that there are a whole bunch of good, creative writers and artists with stories in the superhero-ish genre that are kind of shut out from the mainstream. It’s good to see a good team break through on their own.
The story seems to have first appeared in online at deathlesscomic.com, which you can enjoy that way, if you like. Me, I like this bigger print volume and being able to read the whole story (so far) in one book. You can order it through the website, or try your local comic book shop.