Review: The Dying and the Dead #3

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Dying and the Dead 3 Cover

 

The Dying and the Dead #4
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Pencils: Ryan Bodenheim
Colour: Michael Garland
Letters: Rus Wooton

 

The Dying and the Dead finally returns! But almost half a year has passed and we still only have three issues. I shall just skip now to the end of the issue, as Jonathan Hickman apologises for the delay, and promises things will be much better from issue 4… which will come out next year. While annoying, it’s understandable. This book is a finely crafted and beautiful thing, and so a lot of effort goes into it – but besides that, Hickman is currently also writing Manhattan Projects and East of West for Image, and is currently restructuring the Universe over at Marvel with Secret Wars (though this isn’t to say delays are strictly his fault). Either way, it seems this review has to recap the story for you (spoilers for the first two issues obvs).

 

In Dying and the Dead #1, set in 1969, we witnessed a massacre akin to the Red Wedding, during which an army of clones calling themselves “The Children” stole a lockbox containing… something?… and returned it to Bavarian Alps, where they all began chanting “Bah al’Sharur”. Meanwhile, Colonel Edward Canning sits by his wife’s deathbed, mournful after being told there is nothing to be done, until a mysterious chalk white figure (who was actually there all along but only seen by Canning) tells him that someone called The Bishop wants to see him, and can save his wife, in return for retreiving this “Bah al’Sharur”.

Dying and the Dead image 3

Dying and the Dead #2 saw Canning, accompanied by Shurra – The Bishop’s advisor – gather a group of his old war buddies to join him on his quest. Their journey took them as high up as Capitol Hill, pulling some political strings to get an old friend released from prison. The issue ended with their pale companion giving them more info on their mission – Bah al’Sharur is a spear – and then they promptly shoot her in the head and drive off.

 

In this issue of Dying and the Dead we see none of that, in fact aside from flashbacks to prehistory, pretty much the whole issue takes place in Berlin in 1944 – twenty five years before the events in the previous two issues. Back in my review of issue one, I pointed out the stolen lockbox was housed in an antechamber containing various artifacts from history including a Nazi Eagle standard, a portrait of Mussolini, and a suit of samurai armour. In true Hickman style, everything is foreshadowing, as this issue takes place mainly in Hitler’s dining room, where Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito – AKA the Axis powers from WWII – are enjoying some dinner and having a wee chat (Worst Episode of Come Dine With Me ever).

 

Dying and the Dead image 2

 

I also mentioned Hitler’s obsession with the occult, in reference to The Children who seemed to be worshipping whatever was in the lockbox, and yup sure enough, that’s what they are chatting about over dinner. Hitler tells his guests the history of the contents of the lockbox – which just turns out to be this Bah al’Sharur that Canning will eventually be on the hunt for. The Spear has been split into three, and each person at the table has a piece and are preparing to assemble it.

 

We learn, through Hitler’s dialogue, the history of the Spear, and just why it’s so important to the beings with whom Canning has made the pact. I won’t spoil its story here, but its history stretches back to the dawn of human civilisation, and its power is so great it would win the war for Nazi Germany and her allies – so why exactly do Canning’s new employers want it now?

 

Dying and the Dead image 1

 

The story has some familiar elements to Hickman’s work, and readers of Manhattan Projects will instantly identify one of his strengths – fictionalised versions of real world historical figures. We may not know anything about these people in real life besides what’s in the history books, but each mannerism Hickman gives them seems to fit – Hitler’s tendency to ramble and talk over everyone, Mussolini’s toadying up to Hitler. The whole thing seems rather comical in its surrealism, but it’s more black comedy than laugh out loud slapstick. It is rather hard to review the story arc though, given that the only thing linking this issue to previous ones is the spear itself. As far as tying narrative threads together, this issue does that well, but given the months long wait, you would be forgiven for forgetting what has happened previously.

 

As with previous issues, Ryan Bodenheim’s art is astounding and fits well with the tone of the story. This is no mean feat however, considering the tone has switched from a mournful husband, to high fantasy, to a RED-style group of senior citizens going on a road trip, and now to WWII conspiracy. Each little emotion is depicted perfectly on everyone’s face, with – as mentioned before – the perfect mesh of simplistic backdrops and detailed foregrounds. Michael Garland’s colourwork too should be praised. Even though a lot of the panels are simply variations on one tone, it still works well, and our attention is often drawn to key elements to the plot with one object coloured in a monochromatic image, a la the Girl in Red in Schindler’s List.

 

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, but I do feel the long wait may have harmed the seamlessness of the overall arc. That said, this is almost the perfect jumping on point for new readers, as it sort of serves as a prologue to the previous two issues – just bear in mind that once you have tracked down the back issues, you then have to wait until next year to read the next instalment of The Dying and the Dead.

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