In Review: Dead Kings #1

The world of Dead Kings is definitely alive.

The covers: Two different covers to pick up for this premiere issue. The A cover is by interior artist Matthew Dow Smith and features a man and a woman, each armed, inside an industrial complex, with the man emerging from a metallic globe. The details are great on this, with the background being amazing. I have no clue what this is in reference to, sadly, as this scene is nowhere in the book. The colors are really good, though. The B cover is by Michael Gaydos and is a primarily a white cover because it’s set during a snowfall in a wintry environment. The center of the cover has two bundled up soldiers walking forward. Before them, at a neat angle, is the title of the series in red. Behind the pair of fighters is the fallen body of a gigantic robot in black. Nice layout and good use of white. Overall grades: A A- and B A

The story: A mother giving birth is concerned. “Buy Vanya…they’re so close.” Her husband tells her all will be fill. She gives birth to twins, Aleksander and Gennady. She holds her newborns closely. “There. There. It’s okay, my little loves. Don’t listen. Shhh…They’re close. But not so close.” The story shifts outside to show the new family’s cabin in a snow covered forest. In the distance are giant robots, circled by jets, battling. One of the titans falls before the blasts of the planes, while the other two spar: one with a gigantic sword, the other resembling a giant bear. This is Rus, the date unknown. The story then moves to Tonight, Thrice-Nine, the wreckage of Rus. A small city lies below the wreckage of one the discarded giants. An unknown speaker says, “The kings have all died…leaving their mad courts to rule.” It’s an older man walking the streets, rambling of his time spent fighting, surviving the Great Steel War, becoming injured. He recognizes the accent of a young man who approaches him. “A winter voice, a scarred tongue…You, too, are from Thrice-Nine.” The young man helps the elder up, promising him a meal. This Thrice-Niner is Sasha Viktorovich and he’s on a mission. He gives some of his backstory to a barkeep, but ultimately reveals he’s looking for Maria Dunajeva Kamenaya, Stone Mary. Why he wants to find this woman is important for his quest. He does meet her, his goal and offer is revealed to her, and actions are made. This was a very heavy plot issue, because writer Steve Orlando is having to create this world and realistically present it to the reader. Characters wouldn’t be providing info dumps just so the reader is fully aware of the history. This requires the reader to really pay attention to what’s said and what’s shown. This is not a book one can flip through in five minutes like other comic books. And this is what makes the story so interesting. I’ve never read a Russian-centric book like this, though it certainly has certain elements one would expect, there’s plenty that’s new and left, momentarily, unanswered to have me coming back for the next issue. Overall grade: A

The art: Matthew Dow Smith is the reason I picked this book up. I am a huge fan of Smith’s work on his X-Files work, with him creating realistic characters with ominous imagery. I was hoping his work would be similar on this this book and I was not disappointed. The opening page of the woman giving birth is understandable without the text, seeing the stress that she and the father are under as they deliver the twins. The final panel on the opening page is a story told without end and it’s practically a Hallmark moment. However, the turn of a page reveals a double-paged splash of a snow covered forest vista, a small cabin in the foreground, and three oversized robots fighting in the background. A turn of the page reveals another double-paged splash, of the present. A believable looking city, issuing a gigantic plume of odd looking smoke, lies just below the fallen figures of one of the fighters. In the foreground is a small mountain with an armed guard on lookout. This is a terrific introduction to this futuristic world. The pages that follow on the street and in the bar look like those found in any post apocalyptic vision, but it’s the characters where Smith excels. The pain on Sasha’s face as he explain his past to the barkeep are great. And that barkeep looks extremely familiar; I wouldn’t have been surprised if his name was Léon. Maria’s first appearance is a memorable, yet quiet, one. Lev’s manners and motions as he consumes his meal are great and tease what’s to immediately follow. The first panel on 12 is key not only for the point of view and the meeting of two characters, but look in the background to see what the other characters are doing: this reinforces the reputation of a character immensely. The smile given in the third panel on that page is wicked. A new setting is briefly shown on Page 13 with a subtle tease of trouble to come. There’s a lot of exposition on 15 and Smith chooses to go with no background for the character. This provides plenty of space for the text, but it also allows the reader to wholly focus on the speaker and the power of what is being said. The final futuristic image is on 16 showing a scene from the past. It teases that some aspects of this flashback could appear later in this series. When Smith pulls back to show the reader large environments it looks cinematic, and that’s what this issue ends with, including a close-up of someone hearing bad news. Just with the visuals, I’ll be back next month. Overall grade: A+

The colors: Due to the Smith’s artwork having a lot of black spaces, there initially doesn’t seem that there’s much for colorist Lauren Affe to contribute to this issue, but you’d be dead wrong. By coloring the pregnant woman and her newborns in light blues they are instantly given that sanitized look one associates with hospitals. And by coloring the father’s shirt that shade of yellow he appears to a be a nurse. The final panel on the first page has the family before a window that is colored with streaks of red, foreshadowing trouble that’s to be found on the next two pages. The robots are colored in metallic colors against an orange sky to increase the shock of their reveals. A turn of the page and things go Russian cold with a city enveloped by snow in the dark. The eerie green smoke that the city emits shows the reader that all is not well at this location. The colors on the streets are garish, while those in the bar are sedate greens, reinforcing the sickness. The orange and yellow that appears at the bottom of Page 11 instantly capture the reader’s attention. The flashback page is tinted yellow and orange to age it. The present then turns to violet and blues, to remind the reader of the future date and the neverending Russian cold. Overall grade: A+

The letters: Dialogue, scene settings, the book’s credits, sounds, and the tease for next issue are created by Thomas Mauer. The dialogue is very easy to read and I like that Mauer is allowed to place certain words in italics so that the reader may better hear the characters as they speak. There are two different types of scene settings: the identification of Rus and then the places within it. Rus is done very elaborately, befitting the country, but it’s so elaborate and is on such a dark color it’s hard to make out clearly. Better are the locations within Rus, which are done in very bold, sleek letters. I was surprised to see credits within the text as AfterShock books have them on the inside front cover, but these fit perfectly into the art. The sounds are few, though memorable, with the ones on 13 ominous. Overall grade: A- 

The final line: Survival is key with all the kings dead. One man has a mission in this harsh environment and it’s one to follow. The story is incredibly engaging for what’s told and withheld, and the visuals are fantastic. The world of Dead Kings is definitely alive. If you’re looking for something different, this is the book to pick up. Recommended. Overall grade: A

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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