As has been evident most (in)famously in the recent Secret Wars extension announcement, and perhaps most egregiously in his other Image work (like the newest Manhattan Projects arc), Jonathan Hickman books are often beleaguered by delays. The Dying and The Dead is no exception. In fact, it may be the worst offender. Saying that, given the talents associated with this and his other projects, it’s a fair bet that these delays have less to do with narrative or artistic dithering, and more to do with the clash of each book’s significant demands and the collective complexity of their storytelling style. And in that, yet again, The Dying and The Dead is a prime example.
Lateness notwithstanding, amongst his myriad other talents, Hickman has proven adept at one odd practice in particular within his stories: turning bad men into, for lack of a better word, heroes. Or at very least, the lesser of given evils. He’s done it with Doctor Doom. He’s done it with Werner von Braun and William Westmoreland. And he does it here, in The Dying and the Dead #3, with Adolph fucking Hitler. Kind of.
Here, the maleficence of the mustachioed motivator of master race malevolence stands juxtaposed against the pale race of immortals who drive the real axis around which this world turns: the so-named Baduri. As ‘Dolph and his two similarly-historically-nefarious chums chat while masticating the flesh of dead things, the reader is treated to more answers about this series’ potent mythos, especially as it pertains to the Baduri.
It’s a tale of ancient cyclical subjugation, of civil wars and of slave rebellions, and this issue’s grand moment stands as the WWII Axis powers’ opportunity to scupper the iron-fisted plans that have, until that point, dictated human fate (only, presumably, to change the face of that oppression). Things go awry, of course, and Hickman once again sharply punctuates a re-imagined history with the harshness you might expect, while at the same time leading us to the beginning of his story, and the dire consequences of its now only slightly less-mysterious macguffin, Bah al’ Sharur.
Fans of supernatural illuminati conspiracy theories are going to love this issue, as it builds such an intriguing world and human history, fractured and flayed as it is by an underground menace of pallid gods. And it’s beautiful. Just, downright visually gorgeous, with some of the most genuinely breathtaking uses of color-as-narrative the comic book world has right now, thanks to the always incredible Michael Garland.
More than a sum of its parts, though, The Dying and the Dead #3 showcases what makes the inimitable Hickman, the tremendous series artist Ryan Bodenheim and the aforementioned Garland such a superb sequential art storytelling team. The parity of the various craft going on here exists humblingly well, jumping as the plot does between a meal shared between world leaders and the fallout of both human conquest and their own insatiable greed. It’s gloriously gory, terrifying and shocking, and at all points arresting in the way its backstory converges. The consequences at the end of this book make me want to follow it more than ever, which, given how I have already felt about this series prior to this issue (which is to say, overwhelmingly positive), is saying a lot.
Of course, that achievement makes Hickman’s note at the end, which explains that the monthly release schedule will be further delayed until 2016, all the more frustrating. By his own admission, this is thanks to a team error of pacing (read: wad-blowing) at the outset, which is a bit of a gilded shame. I just hope that it won’t sully the reading experience in a story this deep and with so many moving parts. But let’s be honest, everyone’s probably going to wait for this to be collected in a trade, since that’s the way the majority of us prefer reading Hickman anyhow.
Still, The Dying and The Dead continues to be captivating storytelling in every regard. If you’ve been sleeping on it so far, you’d be forgiven for waiting until its 2016 comeback, and leave the waiting on bated breath for the rest of us suckers.