Death Sentence collection cover

Comic Book Review: Death Sentence Vol. 1

Death Sentence #1–6
Script and covers by Montynero
Art and colours by Mike Dowling
Letters by Comicraft’s Jimmy Betancourt
Edited by Andrew James
Published by Titan Comics

One of the delights about being given comic books to review is discovering something really good by creators whose work I’ve never seen. Death Sentence is a perfect example: I didn’t know who Montynero or Dowling were before this book, but I will look out for their work again based on the quality of this collection. Death Sentence is a rattling adventure full of violence, humour, sex, death and creativity, and it marks out the two creative talents behind it as people to watch.

Death Sentence has a great premise to kick things off: the G+ virus is a disease with no cure – once it starts showing symptoms, patients will die in six months; however, during that time, they will feel fantastic, as the virus overclocks their body’s systems, making them stronger, brighter, faster, as well as inducing a rush of creativity and libido … and the development of super powers. So, what would you do if you were a super-powered individual with six months to live?

The story is about three different protagonists: Verity, a frustrated artist with something of a moral centre; Weasel, a famous young rock star who hasn’t created any music since his band split up, and who is a bit of dick; and Monty, a comedian, actor, bon vivant (think Russell Brand), who has done it all but needs to do more. We meet them as they discover they have the disease and see what happens to them because of it: Verity, after accidentally blowing up and killing four members of the Department of National Security, is captured and taken to a government facility (an underground lair in a hollow volcano) where they hope to find a cure; Weasel develops ‘phasing’ powers and accidentally kills a groupie before he is apprehended by the same government team; Monty develops telepathic suggestion powers, which give him grand ideas of what he can do with his life and increase his standing in the world. As you can guess, the narrative sees them all coming together for an explosive denouement.

Montynero has written a thrilling tale that is original despite elements that echo things gone before (there’s a Zenith vibe, particularly the first book; there are echoes of the first book of Miracleman, especially the fight scenes in London; even hints of Watchmen). It’s a story set in the present day – the references are current – and it addresses issues to do with the modern ideas of fame, ennui, self-involvement and the interaction with fans and people. But it is also about creativity and the urge to create, something very close to Montynero’s heart, and why we want to do these things. This is impressive for a superhero adventure with fighting and chases and guns, which switches from something small to something much larger in the space of an issue.

Another thing about the book is that it is genuinely funny in places – the dialogue has a refreshing charm, an elegant turn of phrase, some actual jokes, and amusing banter; reading the later sections of the story, it’s almost a deliberate choice to compensate for the grimmer stuff to come. My favourite was the visual gag about the nun looking for the missing crucifix – read the book to see what I mean. It also has a raw edge to it – the language is extremely colourful, but in an elegant way – which gives the story vibrancy and immediacy; the rawness is also found in the sex and violence – it isn’t graphic for titillation, but the violence is extreme and intense, specifically to drive home the ramifications and the reality of the situation for the sake of the story, and the sex that occurs through the book is part of the natural world in which our characters live and interact.

What is also amazing about the book is that Dowling was relatively inexperienced when he drew it (he’d been drawing Rex Royd, Frankie Boyle’s comic strip in Clint) and yet displays such great artistic skill here. There are elements of Duncan Fegredo and Michael Lark in his style, but his storytelling is really strong and his sense of character and place is terrific. Montynero came up with the character designs (he is responsible for the covers) but Dowling takes the slightly over-glossy style and makes it live and breathe in the interior pages, taking what look like almost hipster superhero costumes and making them work. He is an artist who can make people talking look interesting, which is a sign of a good artist, and then easily move into large-scale action that doesn’t lose the sense of narrative. He also depicts the extreme violence with skill, making you feel the visceral nature of it. He is a talent to watch.

The collection includes the covers and variant covers, plus a fascinating chapter-by-chapter commentary by Montynero and Dowling about the creation of the book, where they discuss their process and their interactions during the writing and drawing of the book, giving an interesting insight to the creative process. Death Sentence is a complete story in six issues, so you don’t feel cheated that the collection calls it ‘Volume 1’ on the spine, but it indicates that these two have more stories to tell in this world. I will be lined up to read them when they arrive because their first instalment was such a cracking success. Highly recommended.

Disclosure: this book was provided for review purposes.

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