By Justin Wood
I mean come on. How could I not read this book with a title like that?
A Deadman spinoff with no canonical anchor to any current stories, 'Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love' is kind of exactly what I've been missing from superhero stories, not to mention horror stories, lately. Besides some overtly modern touches, 'Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love' feels like a comic from another time. Expertly paced, moodily atmospheric, and elegantly illustrated, this limited series takes the mic away from nearly everything being done at DC and teaches a class on what actual storytelling looks like.
Bernice is a young woman with a secret. She can see ghosts, and because this is a superhero comic set in its own little pocket of storytelling, this is strange and shameful and not perfectly understandable in a world of flying people punching space monsters through buildings. She's currently living with her boyfriend in a big old house that he got in a recent inheritance which has it's fair share of spooky specters, but tonight it has a new one: Deadman. He's come investigating a mystery, but when he finds out he is supernaturally prevented from leaving, he'll have had to solve it before he finds out what the house has planned for him.
As I write this, it is just hours into the first day of October, and this book is the perfect popped cork for one of my favorite months. 'Darkman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love' feels like an expertly prepared meal of creepy Halloweentime influences, but none so overpowering to show its hand. You have the Old Dark House and supernaturally tormented heroine from 'The Haunting,' the mystery feels inspired by teen detective novels from the 60's, and the art and romantic elements feels like a delicate balance between British and American horror comics from the 70's and high romance manga from Japan. My reading experience with Deadman begins and ends with 'Brightest Day,' but author Sarah Vaughn perfectly encapsulates what makes this character engaging while remembering to tell a story that would be engrossing sans phantasmic tights.
Major credit for this title's success has to be granted equally to artists Lan Medina and Jose Villarrubia, who craft tactile, classically empowered art that muscles into being one of the best-looking books I've picked up in a while, from any publisher. Like the storytelling, the influence of both East and West can be felt in the art, a true best of both styles, crafting a richly romantic haunted landscape that wraps around you like a blanket against the coming chill of autumn. As much as I appreciate and love the broad diversity of styles in modern comic art as the doors of what a comic can look like are swung wide open, this book did make me yearn for more with its classical strength, both conservatively mannered and contradictively dreamlike. I may have read this as a digital copy, but it's my intention to hunt this down printed on paper, as it most likely deserves to be read, and would recommend our readers to likewise follow suit.
What a great way to welcome October. More than any other book I've read for Bastards, this is the finest as a pair to the spooky season, an atmospheric treat that both serves as refined casual reading and as a frame for some stunning sequential artwork. Even more impressively, however, 'Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love' is a comic that can be read and appreciated by virtually anyone. Readers unfamiliar or uninterested in superhero storytelling don't need any complex experience with DC's publishing history to understand and be engaged by the haunted house story within and long time comic readers might find particular pleasure in the classic approach that reframes some of the strongest traditions of comic mystery storytelling. Believe me, rich, creepy storytelling like this is genuinely and unfortunately hard to come by, so if you look forward to October and everything that comes with it as much as I do, go to your local shop and pick this up. The only downside is I can't read the whole damn thing right now.
Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love #1
Writer: Sarah Vaughn
Artist: Lan Medina
Colorist: Jose Villarrubia
Publisher: DC Comics