Saturday, February 16, 2013

REVIEW: The New Deadwardians

DC COMICS/VERTIGO – @vertigo_comics

CREATORS: Dan Abnett and I.N.J. Culbard
WRITER: Dan Abnett
COLORS: Patricia Mulvihill
LETTERS: Travis Lanham
MISC. ART: Cliff Chiang
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3763-9; paperback (February 2013)
176pp, Color, $14.99 U.S., $17.99 CAN

Vertigo, the DC Comics imprint, has just published The New Deadwardians. It is a trade paperback collection of the 2012 eight-issue miniseries of the same title created by writer Dan Abnett and artist I.N.J. Culbard. The series is set at the end of the Edwardian era, a period in the United Kingdom, from 1901 to 1910, that marked the reign of King Edward VII. The New Deadwardians is set in a world of vampires and zombies and follows a lonely detective’s quest to solve a murder that should not be.

The New Deadwardians opens on October 10, 1910. In post-Victorian England, most of the people in the upper classes have voluntarily become vampires, by taking “the Cure.” The cure for what, you ask? It’s called “the Restless Curse,” and it has turned legions of the lower classes into ravenous zombies. Zombies want to eat living flesh, which vampires don’t have, so the hordes of the mindless undead ignore the vampire undead – called “the Young.” The lower classes that are neither vampire nor zombie – the normal humans – are called “the Bright.”

The New Deadwardians’ central character is Chief Inspector George Suttle of Scotland Yard. Suttle has got the slowest beat in London; he’s on the “Murder Squad,” investigating murders in a society where practically everyone is already dead. Of course, you know what’s going to happen. A body has been found on the embankment by the Houses of Parliament. It’s an actual murder, and the victim is a vampire – something that can be killed by one of three ways. The corpse of the victim, Lord Hinchcliffe, shows no signs of those killing methods having been used.

Suddenly, Suttle is thrust into a world of privilege, protests, class unrest, and riots. With his acerbic driver, Constable Bowes (a normal human), at his side, Suttle interviews and investigates. His investigation attracts such colorful characters as Sapphire, a prostitute who can raise the dead (wink, wink), a missing artist (Pretendleby), and even a secret society (the Sons of Adam). As he searches to find who killed Hinchcliffe (and why and how), Suttle finds his own life and past being drawn into a snare.

The easy thing to do would be to say that The New Deadwardians is like a blend of two hot cable television series, “The Walking Dead” and “Downton Abbey.” I think of this comic book as being similar to and/or sharing aesthetic qualities with the Guy Ritchie-Robert Downey, Jr. Sherlock Holmes films. The New Deadwardians also reminds me of two indie comic books that I wish more people read: The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde (Dark Horse Comics) and Moriarty (Image Comics).

This narrative’s connection to the Edwardian period isn’t superficial, and the extent to how essential this time period is to the story can be determined by the reader. I think the story is more relatable to the Victorian era, because many of the characters, especially the lead, George Suttle, are frozen in the past in which they became immortal or undead. Perhaps, the Edwardian period is a bridge that marks the desire to stay in the past (the Victorian era), as exemplified by the Young, and the struggle to move forward (as represented by the Bright) to the future, that being the World War I and Interwar periods.

The New Deadwardians is a detective novel, and class and clues are the things through which Inspector Suttle digs to solve the mystery of a murder that should not have happened. Also, I agree with novelists George R.R. Martin and Bernard Cornwell that fantasy and historical fiction are twins, so The New Deadwardians is the comic book as both fantasy detective and historical fiction.

Whatever it is, The New Deadwardians is a surprisingly fantastic read. When I first heard of the series, I scoffed at it. Now, I’m demanding more. Dan Abnett’s script is clever and is filled with both humor and satire. The characters are nice, but are mostly types: the sarcastic cop, the well-meaning whore, the stiff-upper-lipped rich, etc. George Suttle is by far the most developed and richest character here. Still it’s the basic plot that drives this story, ever pushing the reader to end, and the final two issues/chapters are actually quite chilling. I really felt scared as I raced to the shocking conclusion.

I.N.J. Culbard’s succinct and crisp drawing style makes for clean visual prose that concisely conveys the story and script. His elegant graphic storytelling transports the reader into a world that Culbard makes wholly and completely believable. I didn’t believe in this world at first, but I wasn’t far into the story when I started believing that The New Deadwardians took place in our real historical past. That’s some convincing art on Culbard’s part.

Vertigo strikes again. The New Deadwardians is one of the best and most imaginative comic books of 2012. The trade paperback collection brings it back to life for us to enjoy in 2013 and forever, because it deserves eternal life.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux

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