Review - The Dying and the Dead #1

"If you think about it, they died the moment they made their choice."

Life is meant to be lived. It's full of ups and downs, highs and lows. It inevitably ends in death, which makes everyone dying from the moment they're born. Being able to cheat death in exchange for an offer of extended life is tantalizing indeed. In Image Comics' The Dying and the Dead #1, it's an idea that's explored to great effect. The issue is written by Jonathan Hickman, illustrated by Ryan Bodenheim, colored by Michael Garland and lettered by Rus Wooton.

A murder at a wedding sets off a series of reactions, unraveling secrets hundreds of years old. At great cost, a man with a dying wife named Colonel Edward Canning is given the opportunity to save her. A lost tribe is reborn in another time. Seemingly unconnected events that force relics from the Greatest Generation to come together for one last hurrah.

Hickman is one of the hottest (and busiest) writers around right now, which makes what he accomplishes in The Dying and the Dead #1 so much more amazing. The story is paced extremely methodically, with Hickman slowly peeling back the layers of Colonel Canning's world and revealing piece by piece slowly. By the end of it, you come to realize that he's done an awful lot of narrative despite the book feeling as if he's not really telling the reader anything. It's masterful storytelling at its best, carried largely by the characterization of Canning as a man willing to make a Faustian bargain to save the woman he loves. He's perfectly portrayed as equal parts hopeful and cynical, presenting as someone willing to make tough decisions with an almost reckless abandon.

While Hickman's plot is intricately detailed, Bodenheim's illustrations are alarmingly simple. Despite this, Bodenheim does a phenomenal job with clean, concise line work that work marvelously to add detail to a world that's otherwise fairly normal. Scenery is by and large fairly vague, but it's presented in a way way that still manages to convey all manner of information about the world of The Dying and the Dead #1 and the characters. Bodenheim's ability to convey a wide array of emotions despite the seemingly simple art style is a testament to his talent as well, with character's sporting sophisticated facial expressions appropriate for the sentiment of the page. Garland's colors are washed out and muted, adding to the atmosphere of 1969 when the book takes place.

The Dying and the Dead #1 feels special. It's a great first issue that nails every aspect of a new comic, refusing to stumble on any one aspect of it. Hickman's writing talents shouldn't be questioned at this point, as he's proven he can craft an elaborate and heady tale with the best of them. Bodenheim's illustrations are elegant and appropriately portray the world of Colonel Canning, right down to the somewhat outlandish concept of a lost city. The Dying and the Dead #1 is one of the best new books you can read and definitely worth your time if you're a fan of potentially sweeping and philosophical epics.

The Dying and the Dead #1 is in stores now with interiors below.