Deadman is a cool character. Whether it was in Swamp Thing, or Blackest Night, or various other DC comics, Boston Brand was someone I always enjoyed when he popped up as a supporting character. But I’ve had very little experience reading stories with him centre stage, in the leading role. The closest I got was probably his strip in the weekly Wednesday Comics series DC ran a while back. I know the basics of the character – an acrobat shot dead during his act, he now lives as a ghost, using his ability to inhabit other people’s bodies to solve crimes and do good deeds – but I felt this was a character I would like to get to know better. So, with this revival of DC’s anthology title DC Universe Presents focusing on Deadman in its opening arc, I thought this would be an ideal opportunity.
Plot-wise, not a lot happens in the book. For now, at least, writer Paul Jenkins forgoes forward motion in the narration in favor of recapping Deadman’s origins and giving us an insight into his character. I’m okay with that, though I still find myself with questions about the character and how his powers work. For example, how is he helping people – particularly those who have a more internalised problem regarding self esteem or a regret that torments them – by taking over their bodies and doing something in their stead they apparently won’t remember when he’s gone? How does that help them, if they’re not facing up to their problem themselves? Now, an experienced Deadman reader might find that a stupid question, easily answered, but I’m approaching this from the perspective of a new reader, the very kind of new reader DC is hoping to appeal to with this relaunch.
But niggly questions aside, there is a lot to like in this issue. One sequence where Deadman visits an old acquaintance from his circus days is a nice showcase of his powers. And I love the series of single panels spread across two pages, each one of a different individual Deadman has at one point inhabited, each with their own drama that could sustain an issue of storytelling in itself. We get a sense of the transience of Deadman’s existence, and the weight of all that humanity and all those lives lived that now presses on him. Like I said, there’s a lot of nice character work for Boston Brand. But some plot to go with it would be nice. The end hook was a bit confusing and unclear, and I don’t think it was really set up well enough in the issue that preceded. But perhaps in the following issue it will be better explained, and the plot can get properly in motion.
Bernard Chang’s art is good. It’s not really showy, or particularly exciting. There are a couple of cool flourishes – such as the title page splash depicting the moment where Deadman crossed from life to afterlife, or a moment of ethereal, understated beauty where we see Deadman offering over the wheelchair-bound man that will be his next host, watching with quiet compassion. But for the most part the artwork isn’t out to innovate or call attention to itself, Chang content to remain purely functional in illustrating Jenkins’ script.
I also want to take a moment to give credit to Ryan Sook’s gorgeous cover. Between this, and the solicits I’ve seen for subsequent issues and the covers for Justice League Dark, Sook is excelling as a cover artist, and proving particularly kick-ass at portraying Deadman. This was one of the most eye-catching covers of the week, outclassing even some of the big guns.
Overall, DC Universe Presents #1 was a good comic. Both the writing and art are played well, but also played a bit safe. I’m certainly interested enough to pick up the next issue, but for this Deadman story to make the jump from good to great, some more has to happen next time round.