Part of the reason Dead Letters has been so much fun for me is that each issue manages to take a trope of the noir genre, of the hard-boiled crime stories of yore, and make them fresh. It’s tough to watch The Maltese Falcon these days for anything other than academic purposes; Dead Letters reads like a breeze. Sam’s new gig Here is working for Fante, keeping tabs on Ma and Jones, and doing whatever private eye kind of things Fante wants him to do Here. Sam’s partnered up with Maia from the first arc, whose fallen in stature a bit, and he’s acclimating to the atmosphere. Where the first four issues were a very tight character study of Sam, a not-so-good man who wakes up dead, this issue does a lot of work opening up the world to us. The map of Here got several times larger in the space of these twenty-some pages, and we’re starting to meet people who aren’t just in it for the boss or for a trip down, they’re in it for themselves. There’s also a reveal at the end of the issue that, in the hand of a lesser creative team, would feel like another tired trope. Here, it opens up a world of possibilities for Sam to get pulled in even more directions than before.
One of the truly impressive things to me about Sebela’s writing on this series is that he’s writing a series with heavy theological and existential overtones (or I guess just straight up tones—they’re not exactly subtle) without ever turning it into a screed. In making a sweeping generalization, I’ll say that there’s a lot of angry twenty- to thirtyish-year-old dudes who have a lot of problems with god and religion and whatnot, and a lot of times, it’s tough to read things they write about it because it starts from a place where a decision has been made. There’s rarely a sense of trying to get into the nooks and crannies of the dilemma and figure out what both sides are like. Meanwhile, Sebela is writing a crime book that skirts most of that kind of rhetoric by focusing on building the character of Sam and the world he inhabits—after all, Sebela is in the business of telling great stories, and that’s what he’s doing.
Visions’ work feels even more vibrant in this issue than it was for the first four. In the first arc, Sam got into a lot of dark and gloomy scenarios where a sense of kinetic action was called for, and Visions delivered those like a goddamn champ. And not to fear, there’s plenty of dark and gloomy in this issue as Sam charts the outer regions of Here. But especially at the beginning of the issue, it feels like Sam is finally living in a world where the sun comes out sometimes. I love a good dark series as much as anyone else, but it is always nice to see one that plays up the idea that you have to have at least some good times to make the bad times really hurt.
Dead Letters is five-for-five so far, gang, and this issue is a great jumping on point. It’s basically an entirely new “mission” for Sam, and it fills you in on the salient points of his backstory so that you won’t be adrift. If you read it and decide you want to go back further, or if you’re a start-from-the-beginning kind of person (I feel you, there), the first trade just came out and it’s lovely. Buy them both. Buy them all. You won’t regret it.
Writer: Christopher Sebela Artist: Chris Visions Publisher: BOOM! Studios Price $3.99 Release Date: 10/8/14 Format: Print/Digital