Review: Dia de Los Muertos #2 (of 3)

If you’re anything like me, not only are you very good looking, but you also enjoy the unbridled sequential sexiness of artist Riley Rossmo. If you’ve never had the pleasure of seeing his work, I highly suggest you step lively and do so. As a compendium, or a reader, if you will, also be sure to rock a search on this very site and see how myself and some other Bastards fawn over his stuff. It’s a bit embarrassing, quite frankly, how much a few of us love his art, but once you see how kinetically expressive it is, you’ll understand those feels.

His is the art of the contrail, with line work that paints itself in the wake of the moment; instantly recognizable, it is also playfully transcendental, making it feel like you’re sifting your fingers through the wet paint of a hallucination. At the same time, and if it’s one thing Rossmo continues to prove in his Image/Shadowline book, Dia De Los Muertos, his artistic approach is malleable, with a breadth and visual range, which could only be described as kaleidoscopic.

Just as in the first issue, Dia De Los Muertos #2 collects three otherwise unrelated stories that center around the titular Mexican holiday, which in English translates to “the day of the dead,” wherein the veil between life and that other thing thins and in some cases, melts away completely. It is, for all intents and purposes, an anthology of three short ghost stories. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t like ghost stories? Assholes, that’s who!

Unfortunately, my review copy came without a complete list of chapter titles (or story credits), so I can’t find the name of the first tale, but based on a line from its end, I’ma call it “Never Fuck With Another Man’s Prey,” which stands with “never rub another man’s rhubarb” as the kind of practical, real world advice I usually get from my dad. This story, which sort of begins like that movieThe Vanishing, follows a man who travels to Mexico to discover the truth behind the disappearance of a bubbly coed named Gwen, who is the clear object of his affections. Interestingly, it starts off in a way that had me worried, but not in the way you want from a ghost story.

It initially feels a bit cliche, even not counting its elements of dark magic, human sacrifice and psychedelic face paint, but as the line which I referenced above is spoken by one of the story’s main characters, it completely changes into something very ... very different, begging you to go back and read it in a whole new light. It’s honestly something I should have expected, having read the first issue of the series, which had its own twists, but it was a great and unexpected move that completely turned everything around.

 Visually, this story has the book’s firmest stylistic Rossmo stamp all over it, focusing on a minimalism made both manic and tight through cartoonish pencils and colors. His style lends itself so brilliantly to this Mexican voodoo mythos, and it’s absolutely incredible how, particularly in a few trippy pages, a story ostensibly about the dead can come so alive on the page. 

Just like those employed within the titular holiday itself, the bright colors here effectively cast an ever-darker shadow across this story’s underbelly, though I do have to admit there being a few panels that feel uncharacteristically phoned-in. These really are few and far between, however, and don’t mar the impact of the whole.

The second story, called “The Skinny One,” is, if not as equally creepy, then doubly as emotive. It follows the ghost of a young rail-hopper who was brutally beaten to death by a murderous thug of a policeman, who, in a weirdly quite endearing way, woefully misses his dead wife. It all hits the fan, however, when the young boy comes back to haunt the gruff officer, bringing along with him in tow all of his former victims ... as well as his very unimpressed wife.

The juxtaposition of his almost childlike excitement in seeing her again and her disgust at his heinous crimes, is impressively heart-rending, almost making you feel bad for this cold-blooded serial killer and rapist. The art style here is quite different from the first story, almost appearing like a children’s storybook, which successfully accentuates its warning against depravity by presenting it almost cutely.

The third story is by far the book’s most gruesome, starting as it does with a couple of low-level Mexican border-town hoods trying to make a name for themselves by gorily impaling the heads of their enemies on spikes. Thereafter, being the good Catholic boys they are, they visit the grave of their grandmother - yet another tradition on the day of the dead. Their reunion picnic, however, is interrupted by three demons, who have been sent from hell to capture the boys ... by none other than their grandmother, herself.

This story came off a bit weak for me, particularly when compared to the hefty chops of the preceding two. It just didn’t have the right punch, and was played more for yuks - both in its over-the-top grotesqueness and its cheaper laughs. I enjoyed the art for the most part - particularly the demonic grandmother - but it was somewhat inconsistent, which again came quite surprisingly, being that this is a Rossmo book

This whole thing just lacked impact, which didn’t ruin the book in general, but did leave me with a slightly bitter taste; I hope that in the last issue, Rossmo and co. will focus more on stories like the former than this one.

The writing team this issue is an impressive conglomerate consisting of Jeff Mariotte, Kurtis Wiebe and Joshua Williamson, each of whom does a generally pretty darn good job of driving Rossmo’s overarching vision forward. This is not even close to my favorite Rossmo book (which is admittedly set at a high standard), but to get a quick, if not completely satisfying fix, it’ll do in a pinch.

Score: 3/5

Writers: Joshua Williamson, Ed Brisson and Christopher E. Long

Artist: Riley Rossmo and Jean-Paul Csuka

Publisher: Shadowline and Image Comics

Price: $4.99

Release Date: 3/27/13