Normally, I like to take my time when unpacking a Jonathan Hickman book. It’s like putting together a puzzle, or better for a book called The Dying and The Dead, conducting an autopsy. But this may well be the shortest review of its kind, not because there isn’t a lot going on in the second issue of Hickman and Bodenheim’s newest Image series, but because it’s near impossible to discuss with adequate depth and without spoiling the experience. I know the above may sound like a cop-out, but the thing is, The Dying and The Dead #2, while being extremely talkative, lacks what some readers might call requisite action; ergo, the power of this particular story is in the strength of its dialogue, which, being a Hickman vehicle, is most fortified indeed. I’ve made it no secret in reviews elsewhere that I’m a big fan of “band building,” or when a group -- particularly an erstwhile one -- comes together to, in the words of Gandhi, “beat dat ass.” And that’s exactly what’s going on here, in a great collision of Unforgiven meets The A-Team.
The colonel from issue one, freshly given a mission by an underground city of ghostly immortals in exchange for curing his wife’s cancer, calls on his (literally) old war buddies, each of whom suffer their own indignities, either in living or in dying. Be it locked in the forgotten corners of polite society, slave to the nine-to-five of business life, sacrificed behind the ivory pillars of power or, more literally, rotting away in prison, each of these grizzled badasses shows how the bitter wear of time is fundamentally part of their individual experience of the human condition. And as slow as it can be, it’s just as fascinating as a character study.
Not much more is illuminated in terms of The Dying and The Dead’s overarching story; that is, The City’s ongoing war against a cult-like, clone-rife illuminati, but we do get a glimpse of the thing our hero has been tasked with finding. But even that pales in comparison to what is turning out to be an acutely human story in The Dying and The Dead. Hickman, as many have often pointed out in the past, is a master of the slow burn and he etches this story with as many weighty diatribes as he does with pregnant silences. It’s both a heavy and captivating experience, right up until its shocking and beautifully punctuated end.
Bodenheim’s art continues to be a great conspirator to the story Hickman is telling in The Dying and The Dead’s second issue, along with Garland’s ostensibly flat, but actually quite nuanced depth of palette. In a story this rich in the passing of time, you need a style that is spotted, mottled, weathered and withered. Thick line work, heavily textured forms and a great sense of contrast (a recurring theme throughout the story and art, both) between fore and background, make this issue stand out as an arresting viewing experience, which, despite its perhaps firmer resting state, keeps it from ever being boring.
I know we Bastards get on certain books for being too quickly churned into cinematic chum, but I can already see The Dying and The Dead as a movie, and not just because Bodenheim draws one or two characters with that intent. If that’s not supposed to be John Goodman making a cameo in D.C., for example, I’ll eat my hat. But that’s not to say this is just an attempt at screen bait; quite the opposite, in fact.
The team here, both in narrative pacing and artistic tricks, continue to be the fine purveyors of form they always have been. Visually, this can be seen in the way the ghostly chaperone of The City merges with the gutters, cementing the idea that she exists in a place both part of this world, and beyond it. In one definitive scene, and as I mentioned earlier, she also speaks of the contrast in experience, and the entire creative team here does a fabulous job of selling that idea; old vs. young; mortal vs. everlasting; dying vs. ... “the other thing.” And its telling, the nature of its surprises and repartees, is just as “comic book” as its art.
If you can muster the patience for its already meticulous build (and the admittedly longer wait between issues), then The Dying and The Dead #2 will be right up your street. It certainly was mine; and while I have no idea where it’s going, I am very much looking forward to how it’s going to get there. Sort of like Life. And Death.