In The Dying and the Dead, the Secret line-up of Jonathan Hickman, Ryan Bodenheim and Michael Garland reunites for a intriguing opener that rolls out its high-concept surprises with confidence and style.
I’ve never read any of writer Jonathan Hickman’s work for Marvel, but what I’ve picked up from his two ongoing series for Image – Manhattan Projects and East of West – backs up the impression that he likes to work on the widest of canvases.
And that seems equally the case for The Dying and the Dead, his new series with artist Ryan Bodenheim and colourist Michael Garland, his former collaborators on the disrupted industrial espionage book Secret. It’s even present in the extent of this first issue, which serves up 60 pages for your $4.50 – and that doesn’t even include any of Hickman’s trademark diagrams or graphic title spreads.
One of the strengths of this opener is the skill with which it teases out its exposition, so it’d be a bit misguided to give away too many of the details.
The pivot of the story (set at the end of the 1960s) is military veteran Colonel Edward Canning – an elderly representative of ‘the Greatest Generation’. After a mysterious (and unspecified) artefact is stolen in the lengthy action sequence that opens the issue, he is summoned to a strange encounter and asked to retrieve it.
The quid pro quo? A cure for the terminal cancer of which his beloved wife is in the final stages. To reveal much more than that would be to take the wind out of the sails of an intriguing comic.
One of the most rewarding aspects of this book is the refreshing lack of ‘As you know, Bob’ conversations, where characters tell each other things they both know for the benefit of the reader. Instead, information is meted out gradually, along with a sense of the characters’ rich history. Rather than facing information overload, the reader’s curiosity and appetite are piqued by the revelation of a world that exists – literally and metaphorically – beneath the surface of our reality.
It’s probably worth noting in conjunction with the length of the issue that it doesn’t contain a lot of slam-bang action in the traditional sense. However, it’s a credit to its creators that the book never releases its hold on the reader.
While Hickman’s script keeps the reader keen to learn more, Bodenheim’s rock-solid work goes from tiny character details to jaw-dropping spreads with equal comfort. And he gets strong back-up from Michael Garland’s colouring, which eschews every-crayon-in-the-box naturalism for an altogether more stylish evocation of tone and mood.
While the personification of Death takes centre stage in East of West, an altogether more human awareness of mortality is what motivates Canning (as you’d expect from the title), fizzing away throughout the book like background radiation. A surprising amount has been made of the age of the protagonist, but it seems totally fitting to see an old warrior rage against the dying of the light.
Health problems scuppered the scheduling of Secret, so let’s hope that Hickman, Bodenheim and Garland can see The Dying and the Dead through and fulfil its potential.
Jonathan Hickman (W), Ryan Bodenheim (A), Michael Garland (C) • Image Comics, $4.50, January 28, 2015.