Review: Deadhorse – The Ballad of the Two Headed Dog #1

Deadhorse has had an interesting journey. It went from being self-published and distributed, to being picked up by a publisher and is now back to being self-published and distributed. That also means that it unfortunately took the better part of last year off. Any time a series takes time off there’s always cause for concern; will people remember the series (which I find ridiculous), will the creative team be able to find their groove again, and any other amount of tedious questions. Let’s put a lot of that to rest right away; people don’t forget good series. I’ve been waiting for this series return and never once forgot about it, why? Because it left an impression. Good comics do that, bad ones fade away. As for the creative team finding their groove? Well that’s a valid question, but this creative team came back strong! What was instantly apparent with this series was that its new reader friendly. Not only does the opening recap the previous volume, but it actually adds to the mystery from the first series. That and the entire recap is played out in the form of a conversation between a new female character and a two-headed dog. How do I know it’s two headed (other than the title)? There is this fantastic scene in which the panel of the dog flips to the backside, but artist Phil Sloan does it so smoothly that you’ll hardly notice. It’s a fantastic opening and recap of the first series that brings new and old readers up to date.

The recap ends with our two-headed dog telling the women that the last payphone in America is ringing. This doesn’t seem like that big of a deal after all it’s just a pay phone, but the way the character presents it is honestly quite scary. We go to the pay phone which is in the middle of nowhere and that’s literally not figuratively. A person answers it and says “I am awake.”

We continue with the phone conversation which reveals Mr. Gadsworth on the other end of the phone; they’re conversation is less than friendly as Gadsworth is… well Gadsworth is Gadsworth. He tells the unknown person on the phone that he wants the key that William Pike has. The mystery person tells him that the price is $10,000 for every finger. Creepy right!?!

Next we meet Jim, he’s a news reporter that’s there to set up Elise’s mother to talk on TV. Everyone is assuming Elise is dead because that makes for a better story, but we as the reader know that she’s alive and well with William Pike. Jim actually ends up playing an important role in this issue.

I hate to use the tired cliché of onions and layers, but damn this book is onion. The first volume slowly revealed a complex mystery in a complex world. William Pike seems to literally and figuratively hold the key to the answers, but does he really know what he’s getting into? This issue reveals that Elise’s character plays a far more important role than random stranger caught up in the madness of Pike’s life. What’s her role? We’ll have to wait and see.

Before I said that this creative team “came back strong”… Well that was a lie. Strong would indicate that they managed to find some semblance of what they achieved with the first volume which is grossly inaccurate. This issue is on an entirely different level than the last volume. They didn’t come back strong, they came back and annihilated their own standard and replaced it with a masterpiece of the comic medium.

Let’s be clear about one thing, if you don’t know Eric Grissom’s name then you should and I suspect you will very soon. He’s one of the most underrated talents in comics currently and while everyone else is just discovering the Image Comics class of 2009-2011 that have made their way over to Marvel and DC; I’ve been scouting new talent in Eric Grissom.

deadhorse.02.01.00_trim2_originalGrissom’s writing is superb here. He intelligently keeps the volume number off of the cover because he’s structured this issue like a new series and jumping on point. Comic book publishers like to pretend that there are a lot of great jumping on points in comics, but so few actually deliver on it without just rebooting the series altogether. Grissom’s doesn’t water down his writing for the new audience, rather he finds a way to recap and intrigue the new reader with the very material that they missed.

There was some cause for concern when several new characters arrived, but Grissom handles their introduction smoothly and gives each of them a sense of being within the story. To go back to the analogy of the onion, each layer that’s peeled back reveals another. Within this issue so many layers are peeled back, but for every question answered a new one takes its place. Deadhorse is sci-fi, mystery/thriller at its finest and yes that’s a strange genre, but that’s what this series is.

Grissom didn’t do this by himself; he had the talented Phil Sloan working with him on the art and damn has Sloan’s style grown and improved. His artwork was always impressive, but this issue is on an entirely different level. The characters are still distinguishable, but they have changed and grown along with Sloan’s style.

What’s truly impressive is his layouts. The opening scene with the woman and the two-headed dog sneaks so much in that a second reading is required. If I hadn’t mention that the second panel with the two-headed dog was from behind the dog, then I doubt you would have caught it. Sloan uses Grissom’s dialogue as the perfect distraction as he loads the world with secrets and realism.

Sloan’s artwork is complimented by David Halvorson’s coloring which is another aspect of this series that has improved and raised the bar. Much like Sloan, Halvorson was already a talented colorist (and artist), but with this issue he adds a new depth to the coloring. The first volume wasn’t exactly bright, but it had a vibrant look to it. In this issue the coloring is still vibrant, but turned down. The range of colors has grown which not only makes the world realistic, but also dark and mysterious. That’s probably Halvorson’s biggest contribution… the aura of the book. Everything about this issue is creepy and intentionally so; but the coloring makes it so that you look at a two-headed dog, which could very be just a man in a mask, and it gives you doubt. Is that a man in a mask? Do you even want to find out? Halvorson sets the mood, the vibe, aura; whatever you want to call it, he’s in control of it.

There’s a reason that in 2012 I gave this series my book of the year award and its shown why with this issue. I wouldn’t be surprised if this series finds its way on my list again. If you had asked me if I thought the team could ever surpass what they accomplished in the first volume my answer would have been “no.” The best I hoped for was just that they would maintain what they started and finish strong. With this issue it’s clear that they’re not looking to just finish, but they want to win the damn race. You’ll only be doing yourself a favor by checking this issue out and when you do… know that this is one of those rare comic books that remind the reader of why it is they read comic books. They read them for incredible experiences like one found in Deadhorse.

Score: 5/5

Writer: Eric Grissom Artist: Phil Sloan Colorist: David Halvorson Publisher: Frankenstein’s Daughter Price: $5.00 Website

Digital: ComiXology: PDF:

Print: Select Retailers: Direct from Frankenstein's Daughter: