Happy Easter! To be honest. I had no idea Easter was even a thing until a few days ago. Time currently is just one big blur for me, and I’m sure it’s the same for a lot of you out there. But since I traditionally hold down the Sunday slot here at the Stratosphere, and Easter is the one major holiday that’s always on a Sunday, I thought I should do something thematic to celebrate the day.
Around this time last year, I thought about doing a jelly bean taste test—that might have to wait for next year because I feel like traveling all around in search of candy is a big no-no right now.
My next thought turned to bunnies—since for whatever reason one of the defining elements of the holiday is a rabbit who…lays eggs? Finds eggs? I’m not sure. I know eggs are part of it. The problem is I haven’t really read a lot of books with rabbits in them I can think of. I was never a Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew guy. Bucky O’Haire never really caught my attention. Even Bugs Bunny has always primarily been a cartoon character whose comics never kept me interested. Heck, I’ve never really read the Jaxxon issues of Marvel’s Star Wars series. So no bunnies.
Maybe something religious, then. I remember thumbing through the dollar bins and seeing both a Mother Theresa comic and a Pope John Paul comic—but I can’t remember if I picked them up out of curiousity’s sake. If I did, they’re hidden in the disorganized section of my comic collection and I’m not ready to tackle those just yet. Working from home has been stressful enough. Or they were left in the dollar bin and not getting out any time soon.
I could write about Jesus—he’s a big factor in the day and the co-star of that Second Coming book that came out recently from Ahoy comics— but I just wrote about that a few weeks ago.
Check out my Second Coming by Mark Russell, Richard Pace, and Leonard Kirk Review. It’s worth ordering the trade for sure if you haven’t already.
Maybe I could lean into the whole resurrection theme—but I already wrote about that book, too. Check out an older review of the New 52’s Resurrection Man if you need something else to read.
Ok. I’m stalling. This week’s topic is a mini series that I rescued from a dollar bin a while back. It didn’t get shuffled into the books to be dealt with later section; this got fast-tracked into my upstairs, “these are books I’m going to read whenever I get the time—really” box. That box also has series I’m currently collecting, either waiting for issues to wrap up storylines or actively falling behind on. Once the storylines wrap up, books get read and shuffled back out of the box downstairs where they get organized. Or tossed into the “eventually organized” section.
Anyway, what is the book and what got it relatively fast-tracked? It’s 1986’s 4 issue Deadman Mini-Series by Andy Helfer and Jose Luis Garcia Lopez.
Andy Helfer stands out in my mind because he was the editor on the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League book. I love that book. He also wrote portions of the Shadow series which occasionally contained Bill Sienkiewicz art. I …haven’t read that in years. But I want to. Andy Helfer isn’t what made me pick up the series. It was the other guy. That other guy just defined how a generation sees super heroes, drawing the character model and style guides and licensing images of DC’s greatest heroes. Jose Luis Garcia Lopez is still the artist I picture when I think about Wonder Woman, Superman, Lex Luthor, Braniac, and many of my other favorite Super Friends. That’s a huge impact for me. Plus, 1986 DC was a good year. Maybe this is one of those series’ that got lost in the shuffle of all the Dark Knights and Watchmens and whatnot.
The story begins…right in the middle of another story. From what I can gather from the letter column, Helfer decided to pick up just the storyline from where the last Deadman series ended. But not exactly, as there’s parts of the story he’s retconning. But he doesn’t say what parts. It’s up to the reader. I guess after the last series was abruptly cancelled, they finished things up in Brave and the Bold with Batman.
That explains why he’s here on the first panel. The rest was tough for me as I’ve read a handful of Deadman stories, and I know he can ‘take over’ a person through physical contact, but that’s about it.
Still, we start with Batman, Boston Brand (Deadman), and Cleveland (DM’s brother) in a hospital in Nanda Parbat. I guess the deal there is it’s a place where bad people go to hep them fight their evil urges. I gathered that later, as Helfer doesn’t do many favors as far as accessibility is concerned. Why are the Brand boys named after real cities? Doesn’t DC usually make up their own cities, like Metropolis or Keystone City or…Nanda Parbat? The story is really tough to get into at first, but the art is beautiful enough to keep readers going.
With that said, Deadman is one of those characters who seemingly always had high talented creatives like Neal Adams working on his books, so seeking out the old stuff shouldn’t be disappointing. About halfway through the first issue, they get finally get into the heart of what this series will be about. Deadman is going to take over his brother’s body to feel what it’s like to be alive one last time. The catch—and this is a spoiler for issue one: Deadman ends up getting his brother killed.
That’s ok, though (well, not for Cleveland), but for Boston Brand, it gives him a new raison d’etre as the fancy folks put it. He sets off to find his brother’s killer. So now, in addition to Deadman’s quest to help Rama Kushna balance good and evil, and tip the scales to the side of good whenever possible, he now gets to avenge his brother.
Well, wouldn’t you know that quest leads to the killer, then to bigger fish, and then culminates in a battle against someone connected to Kushna’s past who has set out to do the exact opposite! Plus, there’s this whole thing about how Nanda Parbat is a magical place where bad people are good. Deadman’s powers don’t work there, for some reason. That comes into play later, too. As does an ectoplasm gun and Deadman’s new old pals, a little person circus performer turned detective named Max Loomis, and Vashnu, Rama’s humble servant.
The story itself is fine. It’s definitely more layered and nuanced than a silver agey DC story. It’s got its tinge of eastern philosophy mixed with existential dread and comic book shouting. All of those aspects are solid, if not spectacular. What is spectacular is the Jose Luis Garcia Lopez artwork. Check out the beautiful Deadman origin montage spread.
Look at these vehicles and tell me they don’t remind you of the old GI Joe/Super Powers/Secret Wars style 80’s toy machinery.
The other cool parts are the scenes of comic book mysticism, usually featuring Rashna.
Garcia Lopez does great work with his color palate, using a variety of greens and pinks and purples to give you that mystic feel. Sometimes backgrounds are trippy—sometimes they’re realistically detailed.
Garcia Lopez is often described as an artist’s artist, and you can see why in this series. He makes the most of every panel, every page, every spread.
You can tell by the letter columns where Helfer was pleading for fan support that they hoped this would turn into something bigger. I know Deadman would show up in Action Comics for a bit, but not in his own series again until much later.
It’s a shame because while the story was so-so, Deadman has all those parts to him that make comic book character. He’s a former circus acrobat a la Dick Grayson, he’s got a rough around the edges loner attitude like a Wolverine, and he has ties to the mystical and spiritual realms akin to a Dr. Strange. There’s a lot of potential there, and especially when you consider it would have been Jose Luis Garcia Lopez illustrating the affair.
In the end, the story was serviceable, the art was gorgeous, and my interest in Deadman is piqued just enough I might seek out some of those other stories. I’ll give the mini a B- overall, but at the end of the day, it did its job.
That’ll do it for this week. I hope you enjoy your the day in a fun, socially distanced way.
Until next time,
I’ll be rooting around in the basement to see what other dead comic book stories I can find!