In Review: Dead Kings #3

Obstacles are overcome, something is found, and someone makes a life changing decision.

The cover: On a white cover, Stone Mary looks weary as she gazes to the right. A gigantic hand has emerged from the top center to partially cover her. It is red, tainting everything under it crimson. What a terrific tease of what’s to be found in this issue from artist Matthew Dow Smith. Overall grade: A

The story: In Sochi, within Reconstruction Barracks #33, Gennady — Gena — Vasnetsov methodically punches the metal wall with each of his fists. After pounding it eight times, he holds his fists up stating, “Almost ready.” Steve Orlando then returns to the Train Vault that concluded last issue, with Sasha and Maria Dunajeva Kamenaya — Stone Mary — looking down the barrel of the gun held by the Conductor. The pair is there to learn from him where her War-Habit is. He’s bitter because he’s still in pain from the Great Iron War, so many years ago. The Conductor didn’t receive the painkilling blood that’s in her system. He wants some as his price for telling her where her ancient armor is kept. This is followed by a discussion between all three characters about the pros and cons of doing so, with one character making a decision on Page 7. If this wasn’t a surprising course of action, what’s revealed later on the page will blow your mind, so to speak. Once the obstacle of the Conductor is overcome, there’s another problem with where the War-Habit is stored. It’s a very cool device and a neat return to the science fiction of this series. Page 16 introduces some other threats that are good, with an unexpected twist on 19 – 21. The final page of the book has to be the most badass line I’ve read in comic in some time. Overall grade: A

The art: Matthew Dow Smith gets to start the book with a really strong page of Gena versus the wall. The repetition of the fists hitting the wall is a fantastic way to show the character’s determination and, perhaps, madness. Pages 2 and 3 contains two double-paged panels, with the top showing the Train Vault looking gorgeously in disarray and the bottom showing the gun and the Conductor, as Maria and Sasha would see them. Great stuff! For the next five pages the characters don’t move much, yet Smith makes it a riveting visual experience by moving the point of view about, building tension with the proximity of the reader to the character and how each emotes. Page 9 is composed of nine panels and they’re certainly the eye catchers, with the Conductor’s face brilliant. The first panel on 10 is terrific. I love the design of the vehicle on 12 and am in love with how their destination is rendered. The panels on 16 and 17 are fantastic for the action in the middle of each page and the panels that open and close each. So smart! The way a character stands on 19 says much to the reader before the dialogue can be read. The panel that goes across 20 and 21 is a fantastic precursor to the climax that the reader expects. I loved how the lead was drawn on 21, the close up that ends the page, and the stunning final page of the book, that’s a full-paged splash that’s a perfect match for the dialogue. It will make every reader proclaim, “Let’s go!” Smith is an impressive artist. Overall grade: A

The colors: This is the brightest issue in this series’ short history and colorist Lauren Affe is to be commended. The opening page shows her skill in creating darkness, for Gena’s cell, but uses cool grays to make what occurs within visible. Though the pages in the Train Vault are set at night, its exteriors are a light gray-blue, again allowing every inch of the art to be seen. I really like the glow behind the Conductor on 3, making it seem as if he’s come out of Hell itself. Starting on Page 4 rusted reds begin to appear, which is a stellar bit of foreshadowing. The flashbacks on 4 and 7 are given very different colors from the present, providing a visual clue to the reader that these events occurred in the past. The lack of a background color at the start of 10 makes the reader focus exclusively on the characters and the action, increasing its power. There are terrific red highlights on 12 – 14, with the inclusion of some excellent sickly greens. Overall grade: A 

The letters: Thomas Mauer has created scene settings, narration and character identifiers (the same font), sounds, dialogue, the book’s creator credits, yells, and the tease for next issue. I have no qualms with the narration and character identifiers being the same font because a narrator should tell the reader who is who. The dialogue is strong looking, growing in width and size when someone yells. The tease for next issue looks classy with the extended portions of each letter. I know that Smith sometimes places sounds in this own work, so it’s difficult to say which are his and which are Mauer’s. Regardless, they look good. Overall grade: A

The final line: Obstacles are overcome, something is found, and someone makes a life changing decision. I am enthralled with this story and visuals. I love this alternate history of Russia and how one brother will do anything to save his brother. Stone Mary is probably the toughest woman in comics at present: no super powers, just one strong character. I’m looking forward to seeing how explosive next issue gets. 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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