Written by: Laura Hong-Tuason, CC2K Comics Editor
William Wordsworth had wrote, “We Poets in our youth begin in gladness; / But thereof come in the end despondency and madness.” What a weird way to begin a review on Death Sentence Vol. 1, a story on sex, superpowers, and six months to live huh? Oh, but how Wordsworth’s lyrical poem rings true to the tone of this newly collected edition published by Titan Comics. I’ll return to this thought later.
Illustrator: Mike Dowling
Death Sentence Vol. 1 follows three people who have contracted the G+ virus, a sexually transmitted disease that exponentially gives them incredible powers, but kills them in 6 months. There’s Verity, a frustrated artist succumbed with helplessness. Weasel, a struggling guitarist drowning himself in alcohol, drugs, and self-pity. And Monty, a rogue comedian with an anarchistic agenda. All want to leave an impact on the world and how they go about doing so depends on how they view the meaning of their lives and the world around them.
When I first read the synopsis of Death Sentence, I was intrigued. It sounded amusing, a comedic action-pack, but tragic twist on the superhero genre. When my copy arrived, I flipped through the pages and was actually taken aback by the scenes unfolding. It was more sexually graphic than I had anticipated. I furrowed my eyes, not out of immaturity, but more out of shock and surprise. I didn’t let that sway my impression of the book though. Never judge a book by its cover, or in this case, it’s inside illustrations! There’s always a reason for everything and Death Sentence definitely followed through with one brilliant, cohesive story.
While there is a lot of adult material, sex is secondary in the overarching premise. It serves more as a catalyst and an outlet for the three characters to cope with their impending deaths. Montynero has created and developed characters that are unbelievably relatable. Okay, a majority of us aren’t artists, rock stars, or comedians, but Montynero gets down to the core of revealing the human condition: Our individual desires to be someone or something extraordinary, to create and leave a lasting impression before we die. Of the three characters, Verity is clearly the superstar of the series.
Verity’s internal monologues of struggle and hopelessness are the most powerful, fleshed out scenes in the entire book. You really feel for her throughout her journey and everything she says and does will make your heart sink a little every time. She for one expresses what we’re all thinking at some point in our lives. We, in our own way, are all starving artists trying to fulfill our purpose in life and sate our desires, and how Verity goes about it with the little time she has is truly heroic, beautiful, and poetic.
Weasel and Monty’s motives are driven by the same aspirations and longings, but their presence in the story serves more to parallel that of Verity. Weasel plays the comedic role, whereas Monty embodies the out-of-control villain.
Death Sentence would not have worked without the complementary art done by Mike Dowling. He approaches the script with an eye for detail, emphasizing actions and sequences with colors where it matters the most. Some panels may seem bare concerning the surroundings the characters find themselves in, but I find this a moot point. If you have read any of my other reviews, I believe the best artists are the ones that can convey expressions and emotions through a character’s eyes. Anything outside of that is incomparable, because the eyes really tell all and Dowling does wonders with this concept for all three characters. It’s fervently striking and tells us more about someone than what a character says and thinks.
Pacing in the story is fair. There are a few odd transitions in how some of the panels move from one to the other, making the story less fluid and clear than it could be. There are also storytelling moments that could have been stretched out longer to have more of an emotional resonance. While some sequences were rushed, it’s understandable. As opposed to American comic books that can go relatively slow, the quick pacing in Death Sentence was greatly welcomed and gratifying.
This hardcover collected edition is a real treat, including an introduction by Monty Nero and Rob Williams, a director’s commentary from Montynero and Mike Dowling, and rare covers of all 1st and 2nd editions. The extra material is enjoyable, clearing up discretions in the story and providing an outlook on the story that you may not have thought of beforehand.
Returning to this review’s opening words by Wordsworth from Resolution and Independence, he appears to have been referencing how poets begin their creative journey with much excitement, good cheers, and promise. However like all creators of art, a time comes when a roadblock reveals itself and the perfect masterpiece seems out of arm’s reach. It’s an all-consuming itch that cannot be scratched, just as Verity, Weasel, and Monty cannot grab hold of the key to their entire being. I figure why not begin and end this review on a comic book so poetic, with another piece that is equally poetic.
4.0 out of 5.0
Author: Laura Hong-Tuason, CC2K Comics Editor
Laura is a writer from the San Francisco Bay Area, but currently resides in Southern California. She drinks too much milk tea, talks too much about Green Lantern, and would marry Barry Allen if he were real.