In Review: Dead Kings #5

I was surprised by this book in so many ways.

The cover: Stone Mary in her War-Habit leaps over the wall of some barracks in Sochi, catching some of the fence and razor wire on her foot. This stark cover by interior artist Matthew Dow Smith is an eye catcher for the layout of the robotic figure against a high, dark wall. The pose of the character is believable and the colors, with the eyes on the Habit, the title, and the sole window in a harsh red on a black and white colored background makes this pop. The book has been leading up to seeing the steel polianitsa in action, so let’s go! Overall grade: A

The story: In the Thrice-Nine the mother of Gena and Sasha goes to a calendar and sees that tomorrow is a birthday. “Please. My boys…Please. Sasha…,” she says to no one, “…don’t be a liar.” Steve Orlando then moves to Sochi where war is being fought between the inmates and the guards, with fire, bullets, and death. Maria, in her War-Habit, saves a man from one of the oprichniki, with him being stunned at seeing a steel polianitsa in action once again. Once the man is safe, she looks for Gena, but he’s mourning where his brother once stood, before the bomb that he was carrying within him exploded. Staring at the smoldering hole in the ground he says among the chaos, “Sasha…you never…I don’t think you’d…you weren’t supposed to…You found me.” As his emotions overwhelm him he doesn’t notice a bomb hurtling towards him. Stone Mary leaps and shoves him aside to protect him from the blast. He has no clue who she is, so she fills him in. “I fought with Sasha, side by side. He hired me to get him here after weeks sleeping in $#!* with that brother of yours…Seeing you was his only tomorrow. Feel it when you’re free. Miss him then. He wouldn’t want you to die here. It consumed him. He fought for you, Gena. Let’s go.” There’s some action that follows, with Page 10 having a nice payback moment. Pages 13 and 14 have a character coming to terms with the future, followed by a reunion. The last three pages surprised me, but not in a shocking way, but in a way that made me proud for a character. The individual that’s focused on in the end of this book wouldn’t have come to this point in their life were it not for all that came before in this series. This is an absolute change in character that I’m happy this individual has achieved. It was perfect. Overall grade: A

The art: This final issue begins quietly, focused on the boys’ mother, believing that her sons will return tomorrow. It’s done very smoothly, not only with a mark on a calendar, but with some things in the fourth and sixth panels, hinting –visually — what her options are for the day. Very cool. A turn of the page reveals a panel that goes from 2 to 3 that shows the battle for the barracks. It’s absolute chaos and Matthew Dow Smith doesn’t make it look neat — this is absolutely dirty fighting. I love when Stone Mary enters the story in the fourth panel on 2, with the point of view making her look like a god when she appears. I like that this is shortly followed by a look at her within the War-Habit, giving her a human face. Among the killing is despondent Gena, whose face isn’t shown to the reader until his life is in jeopardy in the final panel on 3. This character has a terrific awakening at the bottom of 4 and goes into action on 5 beautifully. The tired character on 8 had me worried, because it looks as though the grim reaper is soon to appear. This dead look carries onto 9, showing the fight is over for this individual. The gesture that ends 11 is perfect: it is welcoming, safe, and salvation. This may be an odd comment, but look at how Smith does the smoke on 14 and 15, with it looking like a barrier between the characters, which it is, given where one character feels their future to be going. One of the payoffs of this book is the smile that starts on 16 and continues through 17. The final panel of the book is full of promise hope, and surprisingly joy. I love this. Overall grade: A 

The colors: Lauren Affe has to open the issue in a dark setting and uses violets and blues to create the night. This allows every iota of the art to be clearly seen. Very smart. A turn of the page has the colors explode in yellows and oranges, with red sounds and red eyes for Maria’s War-Habit. I like that the interior of the War-Habit is always in a dark red, giving the appearance that the suit is always on high alert. The flecks of crimson on 10 are gross and cool. I like that the main character on 11 has skin that’s gone a cool blue, giving the appearance of death. The yellows on 14 and 15 are cool not only for the fire and the smoke, but the highlights on the characters around the pit. The sunrise on 18 and 19 is gorgeous. Overall grade: A

The letters: This issue features text by Thomas Mauer who creates scene settings dialogue, yells, sounds, transmissions, weak speech, and the final word. I like the strong font used of the scene settings; it sticks out from all the other texts, with the tops of certain letters (h, r, i, and n) very cool. Yells and weak speech are different from the dialogue due to their size and girth, with the weakened speech making a character’s words seem like they could be their final. I like that when Maria is in the War-Habit her dialogue is put in italics, making it sound as though it’s going through a machine. Most of the sounds appear to be inserted by Mauer, though a few do look like Smith put them in, such as the first two on Page 10. Overall grade: A

The final line: It’s rare to find a book that’s set in such a pessimistic world end so optimistically. This story is over, but it could go on, with the fight continuing elsewhere. I enjoyed the characters and their arcs, the sensational art was based in reality, the colors added immensely to the art, and the letters had me hearing the characters’ speech with all the right tones. I was surprised by this book in so many ways. I would absolutely welcome all the creators back for another visit to the land of Dead Kings. 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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