Jonathan Hickman is a writer who misses more often than not to me. I’ve already said a lot about his Avengers work that doesn’t need repeating and I found Manhattan Projects to be rather lacking. However, East of West has shown a lot of promise to me over the course of the currently released volumes and while it’s not a perfect series, I’ll be certain to keep on reading out of interest. So here’s his newest work, The Dying and the Dead. There’s certainly a lot of buzz about this already and frankly, despite past works, I’m always willing to give a book a chance to impress. Let’s see how the first issue does together; is it good?
The Dying and the Dead #1 (Image Comics)
After a long, pessimistic monologue about marriage and then having mysterious group of people massacre a wedding party to get some box, we cut to Colonel Edward James Canning. He’s at a hospital where his wife is slowly dying and wasting away from some sort of generic disease that most people get. However, a Death from East of West lookalike is there with an offer for him, as long as he follows him somewhere. What is this all about, how does the Colonel know this individual, and how the heck does that box from the first scene factor into all of this?
Okay people. Take a seat and prepare yourself for some very long-winded monologues and deep narration. This will be a long read.
I have to admit, I was surprised by this book. I wasn’t expecting this to happen. The Dying and the Dead #1 is by far, one of the most surprisingly boring, dry, and unfortunately unengaging first issues I’ve seen in a while. But to start of positively, the book does generally set things up okay. It gets the plot going with establishing the main character (to a certain degree, since his backstory is very vague), giving him good and classic motivation for what he is doing, gives you an idea what the focus will be for the comic, and presents what could be some interesting mysteries and subplots for the story to explore. It does what most good first issues should do.
However, most everything else isn’t all that good. Content-wise, the book has a lot of pages in it. At least fifty from what I could tell and you may think, that could be good! It gives the story a lot of room to set things up in a first issue, like Outcast did. But it’s a comic that drags and seems to go on and on in a very bad way. The book is very decompressed, containing many big panels with little to no dialogue or narration and moments where characters carrying on a conversation that feels incredibly stretched out and padded (more blatantly in the second half). So the comic feels almost unnecessarily long at points and feels like it takes a long while to get to the point to where it makes you lose interest and skip parts of the dialogue.
Speaking of the dialogue and also narration, this is where a huge problem comes in. This book highlights and brings forth some of the worst dialogue and narration quirks Hickman has as a writer. His narration often comes across as being rather dry and overly flowery at points, where it sounds like reading a college textbook or listening to a professor monologue about a subject matter of some kind. Even when it relates to the situation, it’s not all that compelling and comes across as annoyingly cynical or pretentious without saying anything really grand or actually interesting. The dialogue suffers as well due being equally dry, especially when a character monologues in areas (like the scene with the Colonel and Death in the car); it’s rather stilted, awkwardly dropping in exposition, and lacks any form of emotion or soul to it. It often leads to points where characters don’t sound remotely human and come across as being intentionally vague.
The real tragedy of it though is that the writer is quite capable of writing great dialogue that has real humanity. The biggest and best example would be the scene with the colonel in the hospital with his wife. The way he talks about his wife and her current state to the doctor really gives you the impression of how sad he is as he’s trying to lie and convince himself that things will be all right. Heck, of all the characters in the book, he has the best and more human dialogue and in turn, is the most human character. He’s incredibly well written in his scenes, really building up the idea and mystery around him, while feeling really sympathetic. The characters seem to imply certain things about him and his past, like he may not who we think he is from this first issue, but that’s fine. The Colonel is easily the best character and thing in general about the comic.
As for the rest of the characters, there’s really not much to write home about. They don’t make much of an impression other than being the usual, generic “greater” and “higher” beings that have been around forever and think they are so much better than everyone in their condescending and uppity tone of voice. As for the villains, the same thing applies to them as well. They don’t seem to make much of an impression other than being some sort of cultish group and that Hitler could be the leader. Well possibly at least. It could be a Hitler-ish character, since the character doesn’t really look like him outside of the mustache. (it could also be J. Jonah Jameson considering the artwork’s depiction, but that’s unlikely).
The writing otherwise is average at best. The pacing is very slow and it feels like it takes a long time to get anywhere. The dialogue, like mentioned, isn’t very good and makes the comic drag a lot. The story structure and flow are fine though, with no odd transitions or scene changes at all. The ending was predictable, which normally wouldn’t be much of a problem if the comic didn’t feel like it dragged itself out in the second half with how long winded the dialogue was and how heavy and clumsy it got with the exposition (might as well have pulled up a dump truck and poured it all on us at once). Hopefully, this is just a problem for a first issue and the rest well be smooth sailing.
The artwork is something I’m incredibly mixed on here. The regular artwork, with penciling and inking, are all perfectly fine. It’s nicely detailed stuff, the layouts are nicely put together and flow well even if everything does feel decompressed, the characters are nice (can’t really say much for the facial expressions, no one really showed any range or emotions at all), and some use of angles are good. However, the coloring leaves a lot to be desired. The color palette feels so muted and pale in areas, visually dull, and doesn’t really bring the story to life at all. It doesn’t draw your attention or help you focus on the book remotely. Really, the coloring and line-work do not go together at all here and it makes for an experience that’s hard to focus on.
Is It Good?
The Dying and the Dead #1 is a rough issue to get through. While it’s competent enough at establishing the story and main character, the writing, the dialogue, and the coloring really drain the life out of you. It’s such a dull and lifeless experience at points that it makes this book harder to read or sit through than even some of the books on my worst of the year lists. While I think there could be some potential here, especially with a seemingly great and well-written lead, it’s honestly hard to recommend at this points, especially for something that’s nearly five dollars. I just say back off of this for a while until a few more issues come out so maybe it can iron out some problems it has.