Mainstream Comics Worth Paying Attention To : “Dead Eyes”

Decisively proving that you can’t keep a good bad guy down, writer Gerry Duggan and artist John McCrea’s socially-conscious crime series (yes, that’s a thing) from Image Comics,  Dead Rabbit, returned from a cease-and-desist order filed by a bar of the same name (no, I swear I’m not kidding) under the shiny new moniker of Dead Eyes — and not only did the creators not miss a beat, their book has only gotten better.

It also re-introduced itself in a manner entirely accessible to new readers, laying out the premise quick and easy, just as I will here : infamous Boston-area masked stick-up man from the 1990s is now retired and living the quiet life, but he needs to come out of retirement when his disabled wife gets hit with a mountain of medical bills that her insurance won’t cover. Our guy is still pretty good at what he does — his wheelman maybe not so much, but that’s another story — and manages to steal enough to get his better half’s debts to our monstrous medical system settled, but he’s got some problems in the form of the local Irish mob, who are of the collective opinion that he ripped them off before his disappearance about 20 years ago, and his own conscience, which compels him to begin playing “Robin Hood” for other broke hospital patients.

Duggan’s a fun writer whose more comedic take on Marvel’s popular Deadpool character served as a blueprint for the irreverent tone the Ryan Reynolds films took, and McCrea’s a veteran British artist probably best known for his 1990s team-ups with Garth Ennis (they co-created DC’s Hitman character), so we’re in solid, veteran storytelling hands here and both creators do their jobs well — the scripts are funny, fast-paced and topical with strong characterization and a Tarantino-esque vibe, and the art is just gritty and grimy enough to make it feel like a legit crime book, but with a touch of light-hearted personality and old-school professionalism that emphasizes clear storytelling over flash or style, although that doesn’t preclude McCrea from doing some interesting, cinematic stuff in terms of POV angles and overall page layouts, and rounding out the team is colorist Mike Spicer, who follows the lead of his cohorts by selecting hues that that emphasize mood and tone rather than taking over the panels by being deliberately idiosyncratic or attention-seeking. The finished product, then, looks as good as it reads.

Which I’m thinking kinda makes this comic sound more boring than it is, but really nothing could be further from the truth. This is actually a damn exciting series so far (we’re four issues in, six if you count the truncated original run), and there’s a lot of humor and heart to go with the tension, so if you like a serious crime yarn that doesn’t take itself too seriously, you’ve come to the right place. And while “woke” comics get a bad rap in certain quarters — none of whom are worth paying attention to, but still — this book is predicated upon a situation that even the most delusional right-wing asshat would have to admit is totally true, namely : American families are losing it all because our health care sucks and is too goddamn expensive.

And speaking of health care crises, COVID-19 knocked this title way off schedule just like it did everything else, but I sure hope it’ll be back before too long. Duggan and McCrea left off the first arc at a pretty interesting spot, with the cops getting in on the hunt for our hero, so I hope the second arc won’t take too terribly long to hit LCS shelves. I’ve got my fingers crossed here.

Then again, I probably needn’t worry — this is a comic that was dead and buried once already, but seems to be as unwilling to “get out of the game” as its protagonist. Thank goodness for that.

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Weekly Reading Round-Up : 10/20/2019 – 10/26/2019

My reading selection of books released this past Wednesday offers no real thematic connection to stitch together — no preponderance of first issues, no mix of firsts and lasts, nothing like that — so we’re just gonna get totally random with this week’s “capsule review” selections, and the verdicts for each are, likewise, all over the map —

Forcing a “milestone” label onto a book that’s been around for, like, less than two years seems a bit of a reach, but Marvel is no doubt eager to capitalize on the runaway critical and commercial success of The Immortal Hulk, and so #25 has indeed been marketed as some sort of “landmark” issue, and saddled with the extra pages and $5.99 price tag that comes part and parcel with such a purported “occasion.” Fortunately, cash-grabs don’t come much better than this stand-alone “cosmic” story that bears distinct echoes to Alan Moore’s legendary “Swamp Thing in space” arc and features absolutely gorgeous art from German Garcia to accompany Al Ewing’s magnificent, evocative script. Series regulars Joe Bennett and Ruy Jose are back for the last few pages that deliver a kick-ass cliffhanger, and the future for this series looks every bit as bright as the present. If they want another six bucks out of me come #50, guess what? I’m not gonna complain in the least.

Also carrying a steeper-than-usual price tag ($4.99, to be precise) and also from Marvel is Marauders#1, the first of the “X-Books” since the relaunch not to be written by Jonathan Hickman, although stylistically it certainly feels of a piece with his efforts, and the text pages design carries right over from them. The raison d’etre behind this team’s formation feels a bit forced, though, I have to say, and premises in search of a story to support them never actually work out particularly well. In addition, the characters writer Gerry Duggan has found foisted upon him are strictly “C-listers” (at best) all the way, as we’ve got Kitty Pryde leading this makeshift “pirate mutant protectors” outfit with Iceman, Pyro, Storm, and Bishop  in tow, and Emma Frost hanging in the background as financier of the hastily-conceived enterprise. Matteo Lolli’s art is okay, but only that, and overall one gets the distinct impression that this is a book with a 12-issue lifespan if it’s lucky. I won’t be hanging around to find out how accurate that prediction is or not, however.

Then again, who knows? Maybe I should. After all, you never know when a title might pull everything together and make your sticking things out worth the while. Case in point : Tommy Gun Wizards #3 from Dark Horse finally sees Christian Ward breathe some real life and drama into his “occult take on The Untouchables” premise, just in time for the big finale next time around, and the art by Sami Kivela, which in all fairness to this mini-series grabbed me right away and kept me around to this point, just gets stronger and more confident with each issue. The Ward-illustrated backup strip is over and done with after this one, the events within it now cleverly tying into the main story, and I gotta say that if the ending’s as good as this installment was, then these guys will have achieved something pretty remarkable, namely : delivering a memorable story entirely on the back end, the first half having basically been a confused — and confusing — mess.

Lastly but in no way leastly, the “Cruel Summer” storyline currently running in Ed Brubkaer and Sean Phillips’ Image Comics-published Criminal reaches another creative high-water mark in issue #9, as our narrative bottle-spin stops on teenage sorta-hood Leo Patterson, who finds himself being led down a dangerous path by his best friend Ricky, son of longtime on-and-off series protagonist Teeg Lawless. I was cooling on Brubaker/Phillips in a pretty big way after their last couple of projects, but going back to the well and expanding its scope and reach has proven to be a genius move for the duo, as they’re back to producing grade-A work month after month with this new “floppy” iteration of their venerable neo-noir “franchise.” Long may it continue.

And that was the week that was, the only order of business left on the docket being my customary reminder that this column is “brought to you” each and every week by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. If you have even so much as a passing interest in my work you’re sure to get your money’s worth by joining up, so give it a try by heading on over to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse