9.23.2013

Death Sentence #1 [Advance Review]

Death Sentence #1 (Titan Comics): In sound journalistic fashion, I’ll try not to bury my lead: Death Sentence is the best offering I’ve seen yet from Titan Comics. Truthfully, while there’s been intrigue, not all of their new titles have really connected with me personally. But, there’s a moodiness and introspective quality to Death Sentence that pushes a lot of the buttons I crave in my pop culture diet. Monty Nero and Mike Dowling invent a unique world built from a great premise, where the G+ Virus is a sexually transmitted plague that infects the host with remarkable powers and abilities, but then kills them within 6 months of acquisition. My comp copy even arrived with a personalized letter from North London's G+ Testing Clinic, indicating that my own test results were negative with a .02% chance of error(!).

In this first issue, we follow three principal protagonists as they react to their positive diagnoses in a myriad of interesting ways. The filter of three distinct personalities manifests with everything from a deep plunge into drugs, debauchery, and self-loathing, to a New Age-y annoying media personality being interviewed by a Piers Morgan look-alike, to the piece de resistance for me, Verity Fette, a female graphic designer with a strong determination to simply do more before her time runs out. This latter thread seems to be steeped in a whiff of resistance to an oppressive totalitarian government, the kind of cultural blowback which sparked some of the UK writers in the 1980’s to invade what was largely thought of as the American Comics Scene at that time. Yeah, there’s a lot going on in Death Sentence. The world feels a bit cloudy and nebulous, an uncertain future with an apocalyptic air about it. It has a desperation to it, where people question the point of life in the face of staggering indifference. It’s got real heart, where ego-driven characters intersect with larger social theory, societal aspirations, fame, identity, and culture all coalescing.

Death Sentence is visually engaging and thought-provoking, while rising above just the strong sensationalism of the hook to become something totally unique. Mike Dowling’s art is like a breath of fresh air in an aesthetic landscape that's still too largely dominated by simplistic superheroics. The colors are moody and emotional, a nice tonal match for Nero’s script and edgy dialogue. Dowling reminds me of what would happen if the chiseled but emotive work of someone like Sean Phillips were tasked with something like a low-budget BPRD story. There’s an edge to the dialogue as well. For example, the characters use profanity and a harshness to their actions, yet it’s not for the sake of over-the-top contrivance, but rather a sense of realism and agitation. The script and art find ways to achieve a point and counterpoint rhythm. For example, early on, Weasel wakes from a panic-fueled night of sex and drugs, wondering if his G+ diagnosis was all just a terrible dream. The next panel is a solemn quiet moment where he hangs his head with the realization that it wasn’t. It’s subtle and very powerful.

Death Sentence #1 debuts on October 9th and is the first of six issues. It wastes no time and opens right into the plot unfolding en media res. There’s also a bit with a crucifix that should go down as one of the most memorable moments in comics this year. Ahem. With all of that said, as well as interesting backmatter in the form of an ongoing writer’s guide, I strongly urge you to give this series a look. I’ll be picking it up for sure. Grade A.

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