For those of us just joining us on the Dead Letters train, things are certainly getting going with a bang, aren’t they? That’s just the way I like it, and Chris Sebela and Chris Visions waste no time digging into this next chapter of their noirish tale of Purgatory. The issue begins with Sam, wearing a suicide bomber vest filled with explosives and soul-killer metal, walking through a police line from the Saints of Nowhere’s territory. He makes it through, and with the help of his brother Jude, they commence the biggest, loudest, meanest, deadliest, motherfucking war on all the authority in the afterlife that you’ve ever seen. They manage to capture and interrogate a few of the Saints, which turns out to be surprisingly productive, and gives Sam a lead on who’s been pulling his strings this whole time.
This isn’t strictly related to the issue, but I feel like it’s worth mentioning: in the lead up to issue 8, the Dead Letters team has been blowing up social media, and they’ve even started getting some video trailers produced for the book. I don’t know how effective it’s been on social media, but it’s one of those things that you don’t often see independent books getting, and honestly, it was a really solid way to grab the attention of people who saw the trailer. It was professional, and to-the-point, and I applaud Team Dead Letters for blazing some trail.
Now: the issue itself. While the first arc of Dead Letters struck a pretty even balance between world-building and existential gang wars, this arc has been all gang-war, all-the-time, while dealing with even headier problems. Before, it was “What can I even do in this afterlife where, by design, nothing happens?” Now, it’s more along the lines of “Well, if God’s so great, why doesn’t she come down here and fix some shit?” Sebela and Visions have never shied away from trying to tackle enormous questions with their book, and it’s one of the things that sets them apart from the pack; it’s got that kind of Marvel Comics in the 1960s feeling, when the Fantastic Four would face off against literal cosmic forces of death and travel through space and time to find things that could destroy universes. (It helps that colorist Matt Battaglia gives the whole book a dreamy, psychedelic hue.) The stakes are high, and the gadgets sometimes kind of goofy, but they’re after something human and universal.
This issue is a little more uneven than most; it starts with a lot of rough-and-tumble action for the first half, and then slows way down once Sam’s army captures a few Saints. There’s a lot of opportunities for monologue, and after that, a lot of opportunities for Sam to have moments where he catches on to schemes by other characters for the readers’ benefit. If I had to pick a weak point of the series, that would be it; the reveals tend to be that Sam is being played more often than not, which makes sense for a book about a purgatory-esque place where nothing really ever happens; but it’s a difficult dramatic nut to crack, since it runs the risk of tiring out the readers.
But that’s a wobble. This series has been solid every month, and continues to ratchet up the tension for each subsequent issue. Team Dead Letters is up there with Team Saga in terms of being fucking awesome at cliffhangers on the last page to keep you coming back. People forget that comics used to ask big questions in the midst of their escapism. Sebela and Visions haven’t forgotten; they just remembered that big questions can happen in the middle of a fist-fight.