In Review: Dead Kings #2

The quest is joined to save a brother and certain technology will be needed.

The cover: Stone Mary holds a rifle while Sasha stands behind her looking on with resolve. The title is just below them in a massive white scrawl. Below them are the ruins of a Rus land. Buildings are broken and empty, pieces of metal lie about like body parts, and the land will not grow any plant for years to come. This is the land of the Dead Kings on a burnt crimson backdrop. The two leads are clearly shown to the reader as is their desolate location. Artist Matthew Dow Smith gives the reader just a taste of what’s to be found in this book. Overall grade: A

The story: Writer Steve Orlando begins this issue “Years Ago…” in the Thrice-Nine and twin brothers Gena and Sasha are arguing. Sasha wants to leave home and Gena tells him leaving would dishonor their mother who has raised them. Sasha lashes out, “Do what you want, Gena. You always have. But don’t judge me for doing the same.” In the present, Sasha is back in the Thrice-Nine being carried like a sack of potatoes over a mech-mare after being captured by some guards who are taking him to a reconstruction camp at Ark-Angel. As they make their way, with Sasha trying to convince them to let him go, the three guards stop their mounts because a proximity alert has gone off. As they discuss what this could mean a crane hook smashes into one, pulverizing his head. The two remaining guards dismount to look where the massive hook came from. They see a person. “There’s…someone up there, not dressed like a dissident. That — That’s a steel polianitsa’s long coat.” The speaker realizes whom they are looking upon. “Mother of God!” The woman slashes a cable with her blade. “It’s her…” And then something major occurs. Those who read the first issue won’t be surprised at the identify of this individual, but her reasons for rescuing Sasha and assisting him might, given how she acted previously. Page 6 begins a flashback to decades before where the woman realized that she was no longer suited to fight in the Great Iron War. After her justifications for helping Sasha are given there’s a page devoted to Gena in Sochi where he is not being treated well, though the last panel teases that there may be more to him than his captors think. Moving back to Sasha and his partner, the pair stop in a eatery for more than the food. The dialogue and action there is good, with the ending on 15 great. The pair eventually get to a location where the new friend needs conveyance to get somewhere else and they discover someone. Sasha and his ally are a solid pair for the road, with each making this trip for different reasons. I really like how Orlando is dripping information out the to the reader slowly, rather than shoving everything down the reader’s throat in an info dump. I’m enjoying this. Overall grade: A

The art: The first image of the issue is of Sasha shooting a look of hate at his twin Gena. Their bedroom looks typical of young men. When the scene changes to their mother making a meal there are little details from artist Matthew Dow Smith that show all is not right: a small light source hanging from the ceiling and large objects hanging over cabinets that appear to be broken fixtures. The look that the mother gives to her boys upstairs is of a woman haunted. With a turn of a page the story is set in the present, the empty streets of Thrice-Nine. Snow litters the ground of the deserted city, save the three mech-mares that zoont down the street. Sasha is shown in the second panel looking frightened, dressed like a wanderer. As the guards make their way, Smith moves the point of view about cinematically, showing the characters from high above to chart their path and from behind to emphasize the fantastic nature of their machines. The death on 4 is graphic without being gory: the guard’s head explodes in a glorch of mist. The first close-up of the woman is fantastic with her holding her blade up as she gazes at the men. Sasha’s reaction to the violence on 5 occurs in the third panel and it is more graphic than the violence. I love the final panel on Page 5 with the character’s eyes lost to the darkness, showing this individual to be empty inside. The flashback on 6 and 7 looks great, with a trio of iron entities in action. The final panel on 9 visually teases that this individual has a secret. A lack of eyes returns on 11 for some antagonists that don’t know what they’re getting into. The joy on a character’s face on 12 is unexpected and gives insight into this character’s past. The action on 13 is easy to follow and is very cool and very funny. There’s a double-paged splash on 18 and 19 reinforcing the destroyed land the characters inhabit and teasing what life used to be like before the war. The final page is a full-paged splash that’s a sensational introduction for a character, not only for the character’s look, but their pose, and is also a slick cliffhanger. The realism of the visuals sell the fantastic elements superbly. Overall grade: A

The colors: This book’s colors by Lauren Affe gives me the hues I would expect for a broken Russia. They also make the setting seem incredibly cold, which is what I would also expect of this land. Faded blues color the Vasenetsov home, while their mother is given light violets to have her stand out. These violets return for the streets that the mech-mares traverse. Bright oranges appear for a street fire that is passed, foreshadowing the upcoming danger. The deaths of the guards are given a similar bright orange with red, but I have to point out the orange highlights on the character in the fourth panel that draw her victims’ attention and link her, through colors, to the death that’s occurred. The flashback on 6 and 7 is tinted as though it’s yellowed over time. Very cool. The fire side conversation has some neat colors cast on the characters. When a fight breaks out the background goes a mustard yellow to allow the blue characters to stand out. Sounds in this book are colored so that they also stand out on the page, yet remain cool, like the setting. Affe is a good match for this tale and Smith’s art. Overall grade: A

The letters: Text for this issue is crafted by Thomas Mauer who makes scene settings, dialogue, sounds, weak speech, transmissions, whispered dialogue, the story’s title, and the book’s credits. I like that there’s a slight differentiation between a character’s week speech and his, later, whispered speech: the former has letters of words not in a straight line, while the latter has smaller text. It’s a little thing, but it alerts me to Mauer doing all that he can to make the character’s speech visually sound appropriate. The wide variety of sounds in this issue are terrific, done in different fonts and some read diagonally or vertically. I loved them! Overall grade: A+

The final line: The quest is joined to save a brother and certain technology will be needed. The story is absorbing, dropping the reader into a future Russia that’s been destroyed by the Great Iron War. Characters are dramatic, real, and undeniably engaging. The visuals bring this story to life incredibly well, with the reader looking in the dark corners to see what may be lurking. Every element of this book is great. If you don’t think comics are for adults, you haven’t read this. 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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