I was told about The Dead by writer James Maddox a while ago, but with so much to keep up with I completely forgot about the weekly web comic that he and artist Jen Hickman produce every Tuesday on TheDeadComic.net. I’m no stranger to Maddox’s writing having been completely won over by his short horror story The Horror Show, but you have to restart the counter with each new project. Now I really liked The Horror Show, but I think that I actually like The Dead more. I don’t know right now it’s like asking me to pick between twins so I’ll just say that The Dead is pretty damn amazing. The story begins with a man standing in a dark room that appears to be void of anything. The narration tells us that he’s in “The House.” The man before us has died and this is his room and now he must fashion it to be whatever he wants… the problem is he doesn’t know this and freaks out when a wave of souls comes rushing at him. He frees himself from his room only to discover a filthy hallway and the door to his room slammed behind him. He wonders into a room that’s open and finds a TV on with a priest talking. Suddenly the TV addresses him and we learn that his name is Sam. We also learn that Sam is in trouble if he doesn’t get out of that room, but he doesn’t quite get that since he’s wrapping his head around the fact that the TV is talking to him. From under a pile of rubble a Wretched crawls out and begins beating on Sam. He fights back and actually manages to throw the Wretched off of him, but ultimately finds himself at its mercy.
The story then cuts to what looks like a desert, but we soon see that this is just another room. The sky is painted, but cracking and the sun is fake. A man in shorts named Alex is chasing another man named Arthur across the desert, but he won’t stop. Suddenly Sam falls from the sky and lands in front of Alex which effectively ends the chase. This event also connects Sam to both men.
Sam wakes up in a storage area when someone comes in with a crate of bottles and magically fills the bottle in the dumbwaiter. He stumbles out to find a scene that’s Shinning inspired and a group of people who don’t even remotely look like they belong together all having a party.
I could just keep going on and on about the story, but I doubt I’d ever be able to give you that one scene that would explain everything and win you over as a reader. Basically everyone is in the afterlife… or purgatory, that’s the charm of the story, is that we don’t yet. All we know is that this “house” has a room for everyone and rather than explain it to new people, the veterans put them to work for the answers. Sam takes a job as a bottle runner for the bar owner Devi. She promises information for the bottles he brings and how can he say no when no one else will help him.
The premise is very interesting and while the rooms for every person bit reminded me of House of Mystery from Vertigo Comics, the execution is wholly original. Aside from the room premise there are creatures hunting the inhabitants. There is also a whole other society that is following its own beliefs and kills anyone that’s not a worshipper. They also don’t convert anyone so it makes them as dangerous to run into as the creatures. There’s a lot of moving parts to this story, but every part is important and interesting.
Maddox has done it again in the writing department. Again this story is very big and only getting bigger as the story moves forward, but none of it seems like an afterthought. It’s a well-planned journey, but you’re along for the ride because you have no idea what’s going to happen next. In some ways the structure reminds me of Lost in which bits and pieces are revealed, but for every resolution more mystery is revealed. The characters are also very interesting as we really don’t know any of them and I think that’s the point. Sure we began the journey with Sam, but that’s all we know about him. Everyone has an agenda and that makes them feel like real people rather than stereotypes thrown together.
Hickman’s storytelling is fantastic. She really delivers on the visuals and makes the world of The Dead creepy as hell. Devi’s bar seems like a safe haven, but I was as creeped out by the bar room as much as I was with the room that had the priest on the TV room… and that had a priest talking through the TV! I kid you not the art does a fantastic job of making this world seem real, but more importantly making it scary. I wouldn’t want to be in this house or talk to these people. They’ve all got agendas after all. The coloring is another thing that plays heavily into the creep factor of the story; it’s very strong and consistent throughout the story. As much as I liked the writing and narrative, I enjoyed the art just as much.
The story isn’t done. In fact I got to read a few pages into the fifth chapter which hasn’t hit the website yet. If you have the chance though I would definitely sit down and read the entire story thus far, but be careful because you’ll only want to read more when you’re done. I really hope that they manage to collect the story in trades because it is ready for it. I think once people are able to get their hands on it and read it un-interrupted it’ll really take off. I was blown away by this story and the production on it and will definitely be looking forward to more.
Writer: James Maddox Artist: Jen Hickman Website