With its unique take on one of comicdom’s most controversial foibles, Monty Nero’s Death Sentence takes on the theme of comic book deaths with vigor and sophistication.
Over the course of 2013 Titan Comics has unleashed a veritable deluge of high quality, genre-bending books aimed at bringing that UK flare to North American shores. This month’s latest high profile realise, the brainchild of celebrated game designer, writer, and concept artist Monty Nero, explores the divisive darker side of super powers and comic books – death.
Teamed with the talented Mike Dowling, Nero’s premise is simple but elegant: What if you got an STD that gave you super powers but killed you after six months? What would you do? When you take a closer look at it, the question reveals itself to have no simple answers, at all. Nero smartly chooses to follow three distinct personalities through the course of their fatal illness: a famous comedian, at the top of his game, an infamous rockstar spiralling down the toilet, and the audience’s true entry point into the world of Death Sentence, an unemployed young woman just looking for a break. The last of this ensemble cast of protagonists, Verity Fette, is arguably the most important and resonant character in the series.
While Nero spends considerable time setting up the juxtaposition between rockstar Weasel and comedian Monty, it’s Verity’s down-to-earth reaction to her suddenly terminable situation that steals the show. From her newfound sense of reckless empowerment to the justified rage and horror she exhibits in the face of her disease, Verity’s ability to adapt and function under such emotional stressors, rings true to us because we can envision ourselves acting the same way. That’s not so easy a feat when trying to identify with celebrities like Weasel and Monty, no matter how seemingly familiar.
That isn’t to say that Monty and Weasel aren’t interesting protagonists. On some levels, for a story as big as Death Sentence to succeed, characters that don’t have the same constrictions on their moral codes or avenues for expression are absolutely necessary. Without the exaggerated stakes these two morally ambiguous opposites represent, Death Sentence would fall flat. Despite its modern, stylish look, Nero’s is a story that deserves drama on an operatic scale, a function Monty and Weasel fulfill perfectly. Through our exposure to their different yet similar explorations of art, violence, and debauchery, we learn just how high the stakes really are in Nero’s world.
Mike Dowling lends just the right amount of atmosphere and brooding angst to the visuals to bring Nero’s vision to life. He strikes a beautiful balance between gritty realism and traditional comic book art that bridges the gap between Nero’s script and the reader’s eye with depth and detail. His faces are expressive yet not over-worked, while the book’s climax seems to unleash all of the pent-up emotions simmering beneath the surface from the first panel onward. It’s a wonderful moment, when writer and artist, each by his own path yet still supporting each other, come to the same explosive conclusion.
Another stellar debut from Titan, Death Sentence should serve notice to us all that another strong creative voice in Monty Nero has arrived on this side of the Atlantic.
Monty Nero (W), Mike Dowling (A) • Titan Comics, $3.99, October 9, 2013.