Review: Dead Letters #1

What’s a mysterious character like Sam Whistler doing in hospital scrubs, bandaged arms, and with no memories? He seems to be having a pretty damn good time of it, honestly. Dead Letters is the new neo-noir (that feels redundant) from Chris Sebela and Chris Visions. It starts with a classic “man with no memory” scenario, but it takes in a direction that I can’t think of an analogue for, and that excites me as a reader.

It’s been said that ongoing comics are stuck in an eternal second act of a three-act structure. You have one origin story that branches out into many different stories, but there’s no definitive end. When Superman died, it wasn’t the ending, but it was an ending. In Dead Letters, Team Chris (I’m calling them that, you can’t stop me) is opening up the story of a man who is quite literally over the threshold into a second act of his life that he wasn’t expecting. I suspect this will turn Sam Whistler into one of the most interesting monthly comic book characters in recent memory.

Overall, Sebela is getting more confident in his writing. You can feel it. He knows where this story starts, and he knows at least how it ends, if not exactly how he’s going to get there. I don’t know if he’s just super comfortable in the genre; with the addition of this to High Crimes, and the crime elements of Ghost, he’s showing off all the different facets of the genre and bringing them to a head. There’s a little bit of old-fashioned dialogue (“you yeggs” being a personal favorite), a little bit of tense discovery of who the main character is, and a little bit of the supernatural. The whole journey is a lot of fun. There are occasional beats that feel like they drag on a bit too long, and some beats that aren’t explored enough, but those might just be growing pains for a new series. It remains to be seen.

DeadLetters_01_coverAChris Visions’ art is fantastic. It’s a little busy for the size of the panels sometimes, but his compositions bring him up to champion level. For every page in this book that’s too crowded and tough to read, there are three others that I wouldn’t mind being able to hang originals of over my mantel, once I get a house with a mantel. I’m unfamiliar with Visions’ work before this, but I can’t wait to see where he goes now.

One thing that I couldn’t shake about the book is that it’s a little bit all over the map, tonally speaking. Sometimes, we’re laughing at the old-timey dialogue, or at the weird costumes of the people in Here (the book’s setting is just called “Here”), but then right away, we’re in a sad-sack internal monologue from Sam. It does what it has to, narratively, but it also leaves me wondering which threads I’m supposed to be following. Am I following Sam’s outward hijinks or his internal sadness? If it’s both, I’m sure the second issue will make that clear, and I’m definitely going to stick around for it.

This is an assured debut from this creative team. Crime comics these days tend to skew between monster crime (vampires, werewolves, steamy romance, etc) and hard-boiled. Team Chris has decided to straddle that line, and that’s something to be treasured. Don’t let this book fall into the cracks on your list—it’ll take you on a memorable ride, and leave you with a revelation that is sure to bring you back next month.

Score: 4/5

Writer: Christopher Sebela Artist: Chris Visions Publisher: Boom Studios Price: $3.99 Release Date: 4/2/14 Format: Ongoing - Print/Digital