As teased in last week’s indie comics news article, Titan Comics has provided this column a sneak peak at one of their latest string of offerings, “Death Sentence #1”. Written by Monty Nero and drawn by Mike Dowling, it is a six issue mini series which kicks off October 9th, but is available for pre-order in Previews now. With Titan Comics (the graphic novel wing of U.K. based Titan Publishing) issuing a load of previews and solicitations for material coming this summer/fall, and with both Mark Millar and Leinil Francis Yu offering positive blurbs on the cover and press releases, how does this stack up?
Often times, when describing a work of fiction, whether a comic or film or so on, a quick blurb of comparison is the quickest way to do so. If so, then “Death Watch” is “Strikeforce: Morituri” meets “Rent”. The issue begins with a quick delivery of exposition about the “g-plus virus”; it is an STD which is lethal within six months, but also grants the inflicted superhuman abilities until that time of death. The opening issue introduces the three starring characters of the series, who have all contracted this bizarre illness. Two of them get the lion’s share of the issue’s focus; conflicted artist Verity Flett and drugged out musician Daniel “Weasel” Waissel. The third, a professional comedian named Monty, appears on a TV special and seems to be living what is left of his life to the fullest.
Flett is as close to a point-of-view character as the issue gets, as she has a life not unlike many readers. Her fate leaves her conflicted and she angrily quits her job and struggles to cope with her short lease on life, often lashing out or directing pain inward. Daniel, meanwhile, is a musician of questionable talent whose many sexual adventures while on drugs led to this, and who seems to always wear a scarf and a pilot’s cap (with goggles) akin to a 1940’s serial star or anime character. Those who test positive for the “g+ virus” are quickly monitored by counselors and ultimately, one of those ever present secret cabals of military installations who seek to arrest those with especially potent abilities. While Daniel’s abilities are mostly passive, Flett appears to literally be a walking time bomb. Monty, the lesser of the three in terms of focus, seems to exist to offer a more comedic take on the situation, as the virus hasn’t stopped his sexual conquests. However, is it all a facade?
As one would expect of the premise, this is hardly a comic for young children. Curses are flung, the humor is often dark or crude, nudity isn’t shied away from, and the subject matter is mature. On the other hand, the level of violence is no worse than a typical issue of many “big two” superhero comic books; compared to “Savage Wolverine”, it is practically tame in that regard. Nero quickly establishes the voices of his three characters, and they are all distinct while seeming to all come from a similar background of art and expression (neither of them are accountants or military people). Speaking of art, the work by Dowling is superb. His lines are confident and his colors work well with them, while he skillfully straddles the line of realism with a hint of the fantastic elements which arise.
“Death Sentence” isn’t a comic book series for everyone. It does offer a premise which puts focus on how individuals conform or reject social norms, especially in the face of grim health prospects. It naturally exaggerates issues regarding STD’s to make its points, but on the whole it offers a bit of hip science fiction. The characters themselves may not have emerged fully fleshed from the panel, but their personalities and directions seem to be set for future issues. At 24 pages for $3.99 a pop, that is a better page and price rate than many comics from DC, Marvel, or even Valiant. If one is looking for a story which offers an interesting premise along with a pull-few-punches approach to dark humor and super-powers without spandex, then “Death Sentence” this fall is worth a read.