Deathblow #1–9 by Brian Azzarello and Carlos D’Anda
This is a logic extrapolation: 100 Bullets is really good. Azzarello writes 100 Bullets. Ergo, Azzarello writes good comic books (that are not just 100 Bullets). Even though I was seriously underwhelmed by his Superman: For Tomorrow [my review], and I had even read his Batman/Deathblow mini-series [mini-review], I couldn’t stop myself from picking this up because it was at my library. I am weak like that.
This is a strange beast – this is a collection of what was the second volume of an ongoing Deathblow series, which started in October of 2006 and then ending without announcement in February 2008 with issue 9. Deathblow had already died at the end of the Fire From Heaven crossover but had been brought back to life for this series – was it just because Jim Lee wanted Azzarello on Deathblow?
The story is rather unusual – Michael Cray, codenamed Deathblow, is accidentally retrieved by US special forces from a Middle East jail and brought back to America, where he is set up with two kids and a nanny he doesn’t remember. He then thinks he is starting to lose his mind, ending up talking to his neighbour’s dog, causing him to turn to vigilantism to relieve the mental stress. Then he has a fight with a half-robot/half-dinosaur creature (who has his growls translated into sentences), meets a man who can teleport people and who knows Cray, and then it transpires that his kids are middle-aged foreign agents (who were experimented on to keep them small), so he has to kill them. Then, there are lots of fighting and explosions, with occasional bouts of people discussing global politics; the dog turns out to be the leader of T.H.E.M. (The Hidden Extreme Militia), and everything ends with Deathblow setting off a gen-active bomb that looks like it initiates a Marvel-like universe (there is mention of villains who are made of sand or control electricity, and there are characters who look distinctly like Spider-Man, Giant Man and the Wasp) and kills Deathblow (again) in the process.
According to the afterword in the trade, the book is supposed to be about post-9/11 America and its use of torture in the name of freedom; you can see this, sort of, but it is much more of a mess then that. It doesn’t hold together as an action comic with a message – when Azzarello tries to blend the traditional comic book approach with an attempt at messaging (such as the very poor Superman: For Tomorrow), it doesn’t come together. D’Anda’s art is pretty, with a nice muscular style and a light touch plus the ability to draw dogs so they actually look like dogs. He does dynamic action, if a little claustrophobic, and he does facial expressions with a cartoony edge. The strange contradiction is that there graphic violence but it refrains from showing sexuality or nudity – why is that? I can’t understand why we can see blood and death but nakedness must be suggested. It seems hypocritical.
This is a bizarre collection – there are some nice dialogue flourishes from Azzarello, as to be expected (such as the detectives at the murder scene talking about potential new police lingo), and D’Anda’s art is perfectly suited to the violent yet odd atmosphere – but it doesn’t amount to a story that had an overwhelming need to be told and there’s not enough going on to keep the reader engaged for nine issues. I don’t think that Azzarello + superhero comics is a good equation, and I don’t think I’ll be looking out for any further mainstream work from him.