You know what I think Jim Valentino wanted to do when his Shadowline imprint took on Dia de los Muertos? He wanted to give Riley Rossmo a stage on which to show how fucking good he is, and for that, as something of a pretty big fan of the vast majority of Rossmo’s stuff, I am grateful. Once again this is a book of completely unassociated short ghost stories, written by a revolver of different authors, with Rossmo handling the entirety of art duties. The first story of the book, “Return of the Dead,” written by Alex Grecian, is visually, in my opinion at least, its best. That may have something to do with the fact that it’s pretty much all art, with only a few word balloon-framed pictograms to contend for space. Otherwise completely wordless and monochrome, apart from small, focused splashes of color, this tells the story about a kidnapper / butcher of children who finally gets his comeuppance via some very disgruntled Caspers.
Rossmo allows himself to be particularly grave here (no pun intended) by structuring himself within the harsh contrast of black and white that so beautifully begets the power in his style. The content here, directed by Grecian, simultaneously makes you feel grim and vindicated, all pressed within a nice, tight package.
In “Lonesome,” the second story, here written by the ever-impressive Kurtis J. Wiebe, Rossmo shows the other prominent side of his style: that which is smudged in glutinous stains and blanketed beneath ethereal lacerations, looking like flotsam shaken from the story itself. In a way that is reflected by its art, this is the book’s most emotionally sonorous entry, calling into question the idea of who is haunting whom in the tale of a relationship that was cut off before its time.
Wiebe and Rossmo, having collaborated before to great effect both in this title and in two similarly stellar books, Green Wake and Debris, show the strength of their own unique relationship, and how amazing they are at filling in each other’s’ silences. The feels in this one come thick, without Wiebe being overly treacly, and I love how Rossmo’s work here makes each panel appear like some old photograph; snapshots, almost, of these star-crossed characters’ lives.
Finally is a story written by Joe Keatinge and colored by Megan Wilson called “Day of the Dead 3000,” which I think you’ll agree is a pretty shit-hot title. This is, however, my least favorite of the stories in this issue. Don’t get me wrong, the idea of a Mexican deathgod superhero named Ultra Muertos fighting the morbid machinations of Mother Slaughter and her army of Reaper Bots gets me very “mojado.” I also like the innocent, almost hokey cadence of the characters and the matching Kirby-esque spirit Rossmo conjures in his art.
But this just felt a bit over the top for me after two solid, fairly grounded stories, and I don’t think this is the one they should have gone out with, when there were much stronger stories elsewhere. The end provides a nice enough twist, but it was all a bit too loud for my liking. This series has worked best when its darkness was more subdued.
Another thing that would have been nice is if there had been some kind of commonality linking these stories together, other than the quite loose association with the traditional Mexican holiday after which it was named. I think that would have made this seem more like a cohesive whole rather than just a bunch of (still mostly solid) ghost stories.
Altogether, Dia de los Muertos has been a fun read for me - which is impressive for a series about Death - and it’s always nice to salivate over Rossmo’s art. There have been a few hiccups here and there, but nothing too toxic, and I’m looking forward to this (hopefully) coming out in trade format. That’s gonna be a hell of an addition to anyone’s shelf.
Writers: Alex Grecian, Kurtis J. Wiebe & Joe Keatinge Artist: Riley Rossmo Publisher: Shadowline/Image Comics Price: $4.99 Release Date: 5/22/13