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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Comics Spotlight Review: Death Sentence, Vol. 1

Death Sentence, Vol. 1
Written by Montynero, Art by Mike Dowling

Coming out in single issues through Titan Comics, Death Sentence may not be a comic you've heard a lot about yet, but there's a fair chance you'll be hearing about it more in the future.

The concept is a pretty brilliant one: the Super G virus, which gives individuals random superpowers but cuts their lifespan down to a measly six months, is spreading fast. The real kicker that jumpstarts the idea is that the Super G virus is a sexually transmitted disease, which adds a whole other dimension and gives the book an R-Rated edge. Central to Volume 1 are three people infected with the virus: Verity, a struggling painter who's stuck in a dead-end office job; 'Weasel,' a burgeoning rock star and drug addict; and Monty, a Russell Brand-esque comedian. It's important to note that all three are different kinds of artists, a theme that the book returns to often.

While the concept is exceptionally strong, the story is a bit slow–at least at first. For Verity, who is ostensibly the main character, almost nothing happens until the climactic act three. Weasel has some interesting things happen as he begins to lose control of his powers and his value as an artist to the record company, though, so there is some meat on his side of things. In the beginning, Monty seems very tertiary, just your average selfish celebrity, and acts as the comedic break in many cases.

The last two issues of Volume 1, however, bring the story to apocalyptic proportions rather suddenly, as one of the characters takes over London with their powers and forces the other two to try and stop them. The attack is very Millar-esque, with an insanely high death count and a brutality that is shocking. While it does come about quickly, the motivations behind it make sense in context, and put forth some fairly interesting ideas.

The structure of the story is lacking in some ways–it moves forward in fits and starts and doesn't get it's footing until a couple issues in–but the dialogue is solid and the ideas grand. In many ways, the book reads more like a treatise on art and how artists of all kinds are driven by invisible forces to create than a narrative, as the characters are sort of secondary to the ideas. It's not that the story is cold and doesn't care about the characters, but their purpose is less personal and more philosophical. This is a world that needs a lot of exploring, and unfortunately the first volume doesn't get a chance to delve into it as much as I would like. The unique perspective of the story and the graphic style in which it is told makes up for a lot of its problems, however.

Dowling's art is one of the strongest aspects of the book. Don't let the bizarre cover and title design throw you, as Dowling's interior work is drastically different and much better, looking a bit like Michael Lark. He puts an equal amount of care into the quiet moments as he does the giant violent action, and between the two of them, they created interesting looks for their characters and their powers that's not quite like anything else on the stands.

While it's not a perfect book, it shows a lot of potential. Death Sentence takes another crack at the superheroes-in-real-life mold, but pours in so many ideas that the mold overflows into something unlike other similar tales. It's also refreshing to read a superhero story that doesn't have to be tied to a "teen" or "teen+" rating–in a world where superpowered rock stars rule, of course there's lots of sex and drugs. The world and characters have a long way to go before becoming fully fleshed out, but for a first volume, it pulls you in with a clever concept and ends with a bang. It's certainly worth a read, and one that I'll be watching for as the story continues!

Rating: B+

You can buy Death Sentence Volume 1 on Amazon.com.
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