In Review: Dead Kings #4

The iron War-Habit has been found and the climax has begun!

The cover: The logo for this book is in the bottom center. Below it is a silhouette of Reconstruction Barracks #33 in Sochi. Above the logo are images of the main characters: from left to right, Mary, Gena, and Sasha. Their emotional states, are impassive, beaten, and resolved. Artist Matthew Dow Smith has placed a harsh burnt red behind the characters to make them stand out, while the setting is in murky grays, giving the locale a lack of hope. This image is a good lead in to what’s to be found on this issue’s pages. Overall grade: A

The story: Steve Orlando opens this issue like the last, at the Reconstruction Barracks in Sochi where Gena is being held. He’s punching the wall. When done he looks at his fists and says, “Tomorrow.” There’s a transition to “Elsewhere” where Maria Dunajeva Kamenaya, aka Stone Mary, is being punched in the face by one of the oprichniki. One gets close enough for her to strike his face. “Your jaw’s deserted you. Broke my f***ing hand, too.” She’s backed against a wall by these six armed men, happy that Sasha has taken off to rescue his younger brother Gena in her War-Habit. The story then moves to him flying along, unhappy that she’s committing suicide essentially. He tries to land to think for a moment and only survives his landing because he’s in the metal suit. Back at “Elsewhere” Maria takes another punch and would be killed had not Sasha returned. I love Maria’s parting line to her former captors. Who the pair see next is fantastic. This character hasn’t been seen before but absolute fits into Russian mythology, but updated for the alternate history of this country. There’s a neat two paged scene between the leads before the battle where words are exchanged and they pump each other up for the conflict. The final nine pages take place in the barracks, beginning with an exceptional cool scene involving Gena, who’s not as weak as he’s been portrayed. Add Sasha and Maria into the mix and this is a major jail break. The last two pages have a major surprise that was teased last issue. I don’t think any reader would have seen this ending coming. This issue earns the highest grade yet for the story because of all the action, the beginning of the climax, the cool new female character, and the dialogue between Sasha and Maria. Overall grade: A+

The art: This issue has wall punching only take two panels, but now Matthew Dow Smith shows one of the punches from the wall’s point of view, letting the reader see the determination on Gena’s face. This also serves as a great visual transition to Maria literally taking one on the chin. I like how she’s not been knocked down yet by her foes, merely taking a moment bent over with her hands on her knees at the top of Page 2. The bottom panel on the page has a great image of Sasha flying along in the War-Habit. Seeing Sasha within the suit at the start of the next page is funny and completely turns the now classic images of Robert Downey Jr. in his suit to shame — this experience is not for everyone. The landing on the same page is also very funny. The large panels that comprise the majority of 4 and 5 is a great way to show the villains being taken out, with the one closest and farthest from the entrance are taken out really graphically, and they have it coming! The last panel on 5 is a perfect illustration matched with the dialogue. I love the design of the new character on 7 and her weapon — just awesome. What’s done to her on 9 is so cool and had me fretting like Sasha. The slow pull in to the individual on 12 is wonderfully cinematic. I love that the visuals on 15 tell as much of the story as the dialogue, showing that Smith is more than capable of telling this tale with his art. Not one panel is shown leveled at the reader on 17, making the action and panic increase. And how about the final panel on that page? I love when a character reacts to something the reader can’t see, making the reader predict what’s going to happen next and Smith doesn’t disappoint when the page is turned. The reunion at the top of the 21 is one of the payoffs the reader needs after four issues, though the seventh panel shows it’s not going to last. The last page is an absolute heartbreaker. The action is massive and the reaction is perfect in its distress. This is how you visually end a chapter! Overall grade: A

The colors: Lauren Affe continues to use grays smartly to create dark environments that allows the reader to see every bit of the visuals while the characters in them struggle. I like the lack of color for the background in the bottom panel on the first page, making that action against Maria eye catching. This lack of background colors continues at the top and bottom of 2 and at the bottom of 3; this allows the reader to really focus on the characters, soaking in all that they’re doing. I love the brilliant yellow used for the War-Habit’s exhaust, making it industrial powerfully. The top panel on 3 has fantastic red surroundings that amplify the character’s state. Check out the cool work done with yellows on 5 in the middle panel, emphasizing where the rounds from the suit are going. The new character introduced on 7 wears green that adds to her magical nature. The blues in the second panel are 9 are frightful and reassuring once it’s revealed what they mean. The yellows and tans on 10 and 11 beautifully add to the location, tone, and time. Great shades on the characters’ faces here, too. The reds on 15 are shocking and perfect. I love the return of the red on 19, calling back to Page 3, but now to increase the action. Overall grade: A

The letters: Three different types of scene settings, dialogue, sounds, yells, transmissions, whispered text, and the issue’s creators are crafted by Thomas Mauer. I’m a sucker for an interesting scene setting and I’m really impressed that Mauer has created two on the first page and brings in a third on 7. They are designed well and are instant eye catchers, as well as informing the reader as to where the story is now located. The yells are much larger than the dialogue, indicating how the reader should hear such outbursts. The transmissions are in italics, giving them a mechanical tone. The sounds are big and small, but I don’t know if Mauer did them all. Needless to say, they all look good. There’s also a bit of whispered bit of dialogue on 14 for characters to communicate without their overseers hearing them. It’s easy to read and the reader knows exactly why they are in such smaller font. This grade gets kicked up due to the trio of scene settings. Overall grade: A+

The final line: The iron War-Habit has been found and the climax has begun! Lots of great payoff in this issue, with plenty of action and surprises for Sasha and Gena. Maria continues to be an incredibly strong character, with her being powerful in and out of the suit. The visuals are terrific, often telling the story without text. The colors are beautiful and the letters are perfect. This is storytelling at its best. 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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