Writer: James Maddox
Artist: Jen Hickman
Cover Colors: Jen Hickman
Despite the first few pages and a rather misleading cover, it is NOT a zombie comic. For those of you burnt out on the over-saturation of zombie-dom as of late, like I am, this comes as a great relief. From what I’ve heard from the author James Maddox, he’s had to explain that notion on several occasions. In fact, when he first spoke with me about his series one of the first things he said to me was: “The Dead is NOT a zombie comic (I promise), but rather, it’s the story of what happens and where you go after you die”.
This is the story of Sam, who wakes up in an empty void soon to contain a door. Turns out, Sam is dead, and rather than Heaven or Hell or whatever he expected the afterlife to be, he finds himself in “The House”. The House is a mansion or hotel-like building of possibly infinite space, where each room is presumably an empty void that is shaped and created into something tangible by any number of the other dead people living in The House. A room can be as small as a storage closet or big enough to replicate entire cities, mountains, savannahs and so on. Sound confusing yet? Well Sam certainly finds it confusing. And the story is about his attempts at uncovering the mystery of The House, what happens when you die, where you go and where he’s gone, and much much more.
The House is filled with countless other people, some of whom seek answers; some are just content to exist in whatever afterlife this is. Our main cast of characters other than Sam include: Alex, a brash violent hot-head, Devi, a manipulative businesswoman who trades limited information for goods and services; Arthur, a man seemingly driven insane by his discoveries; Velouria, a loner who might finally have found a family; Kate, died when she was 10 but has seen enough bloodshed to last a lifetime.
Also filling the house are monstrous entities like demonic creatures, ghostly figures, and even monsters that may have possibly been created by other people, which leads to even more mysteries that need to be solved. Yetis, undead pirates, Count Orlock/Nosferatu, giant spiders, minotaurs, the wolf-man, bride of Frankenstein, creature from the Black Lagoon, a gryphon, and sandworms just to name a few of the little creature cameos that don’t quite mesh well with the rest of the established monsters.
The art is pretty awesome!!! It also happens to be somewhat inconsistent in quality at times. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the first time I looked at it, I thought to myself “this looks like a webcomic”, which I know that no two webcomics look the same, but I can’t think of a better way to explain my gut reaction other than to say that it didn’t strike me the right way. I should point out that when I had that initial thought, I actually had no idea that this WAS in fact a webcomic. Take that for what you will. Trying to rephrase, the art has a very “indie” look to it with a very unique style, but the sequential art is, as previously stated, inconsistent with some panels looking much better than others. Which isn’t a huge problem, and certainly isn’t enough of a glaring flaw to hinder the visual storytelling in any way; it’s simply an observation, albeit a poorly articulated one.
The characters are all terrifically unique and interesting, and even the few that aren’t very developed are still relatable and understandable, and I feel are left less developed for story purposes. We’re not yet supposed to fully grasp these characters, at least not yet, as they too are part of the mysteries of The House. If I had one major gripe with the characters it would be more of a question of a possible perceived moment of confusion over the character of Devi.
Devi, as mentioned before is a shrewd and manipulative woman who has managed to work her way to the top ranks and lords her connections and information over others. At the beginning of the tale, we’re introduced to her assistant named Paul, who Devi calls Tony as she can’t be bothered to remember his name. The next time we encounter the two is when Paul is accidentally killed by one of our main characters. Devi, who has already shown feelings of displeasure with the character, suddenly freaks out and organizes a witch hunt for the characters head. Granted some time has passed since the last time we saw these two together. So, I’m not sure if it’s just a bad moment of characterization as we’re given this unexplained character turn, or if it’s meant to feel contrived and fake as Devi doesn’t really care about Paul and just needs an excuse to have her way.
***MINOR SPOILER DONE***
Another point of praise for the characters goes to Velouria, the muscle of the group. She’s the one token minority character we see in the group, or from what I can recall most of the people scattered throughout The House. But rather than just being there to bring some diversity, i.e. an unimportant palette-swap, she’s actually rather important. She saves the main characters life and the lives of most of the other characters multiple times, she’s got strong well-defined characterization, and gets a nice bit of character growth by the end of the story.
My favorite element of the tale comes by way of two characters: Kate and her best friend Roth, who also happens to be one of the monsters residing in the house. Kate comes across as older and more world-weary than most of the characters in the story, though she’s stuck in the body of a child, having died at the age of ten. She plays out as that charming old bastard Clint Eastwood has become famous for playing, while stuck in the body of a little girl. There’s just something so captivating about seeing a little girl with pigtails wearing pink overalls while sporting an army helmet, knocking back a glass of scotch and chomping on a cigar. And Roth is a silent giant powerhouse who looks like a living blast furnace. The juxtaposition of the two is outstandingly entertaining.
My only other issue with the book/series is in its overall delivery. A lot of it seems rather rushed. If I had encountered this story the way it was originally released, online as a web-series, I might not have stuck with it. This is partially due to just how abruptly chapters one and two conclude with nothing really there to hook me into the story as of yet. I am glad that I stuck it out though, and if you plan to check this out be sure to press on after the first issue, as the story really kicks into high gear after that. Speaking of high gear, the story really ramps up the pacing for the final two issues (last four chapters) found in the collected version, so much that I felt that the story was going TOO fast. And again, it hit me with another abrupt almost jarring ending. Not quite a cliffhanger, but more like the story just stopped with a few pages to go.
I’ve heard from James that he is currently working on continuing the story, which is great, because despite my minor issues with this release, I absolutely loved it, and the abrupt ending only makes me want more! I highly recommend that you all check out this comic as soon as possible. And with each issue ONLY costing $0.99, that’s a steal!!!
James tells me that they’re working on physical to be made available for those that want them, and they’re working on getting the collected Trade Paper-Back available for purchase sometime soon. The collected edition I was allowed to preview contains the currently available issues 1-4 and also issues 5 & 6 (chapters 9-12), as well as art galleries, lots of background info, more world-building aspects to the story not featured in the initial release, and tons of extra goodies. Hopefully that will become available sooner rather than later.