MINI-SERIES REVIEWS...

Deadman #1 - art J.L. Garcia-LopezDeadman

(1986 - four issues, published by DC Comics)

Writer: Andrew Helfer. Art: Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.

This was intended as a bit of a then-milestone in the un-life of Deadman, the ghostly superhero with the ability to possess people, as it chronicles his showdown with the Sensei and the Society/League of Assassins and their attempts to destroy the mystical hidden city of Nanda Parbat. Along the way he learns who and what both his spiritual guardian, Rama Kushna, and his arch-foe, the Sensei, really are. By the end of the storyline, a number of supporting characters have been killed off, a new one, Max Loomis, is introduced, and so on.

This was at a time when DC was reinventing its characters. The story is intended to follow directly on the heels of the events in original series (at that point just recently reprinted in a 7 issue mini-series)...thereby ignoring and negating most of the other Deadman stories published in the '70s and early '80s.

Frankly, the mini-series left me kind of ambivalent. Helfer writes decent dialogue and Garcia-Lopez is rarely less than very good and, based on the editorials written by Helfer, Helfer seems geuninely enthusiastic about the work. But the story never really catches fire. Though it's not boring or draggy, little really sticks with you either. There are some good scenes, including a couple showing what it would be like from the perspective of someone getting possessed by Deadman, as they suddenly find themselves suffering from a gap in their memory. Other times, though, there are lapses in logic.

I'll admit I brought some baggage to the thing. I'd only recently read the original Deadman stories and was quickly entranced by them, and part of my ennui towards this was how it didn't live up to its source. Now that's odd since this was intended as a direct sequel and Helfer clearly knows the material (even the character of Loomis, a little person, was a background player in the original series that Helfer has re-invented). Loomis is respectfully handled as a person, but the way others refer to him (at one point even calling him a freak) is uncomfortable.

But...the original Deadman was a mix of human drama/crime story flavoured with eerie Eastern mysticism. This Deadman seems more a part of an editorial shift clearly intended to fold all of DC's characters into a consistent style and reality, with Deadman essentially just a superhero. And Rama Kushna, originally "the face of the universe", is here demoted to just being a low level entity presumably so as not to conflict with the spiritual pantheon as established in other DC series. As such, much of the mystery and mysticism is bled out of the series precisely because Helfer chooses to explain things. It's also uncomfortable, with Nanda Parbat, formerly a valley of spiritual contentment, here basically a mass-brainwashing facility for the anti-social.

The human drama is kind of weak, with precious few moments given over to characters not directly related to the main heroic plot, and little dealing with real human dilemmas...which was kind of the bred and butter of earlier Deadman stories. And the passion and angst of Deadman himself is kind of muted by the way Helfer writes scenes and Garcia-Lopez draws them.

I'm also just not big on the way comic folks like to clean house by killing off characters that no longer fit into their "vision" of the series. Particularly in a case like this where Helfer's take on Deadman didn't really succeed in re-igniting interest in the character among the readership, anyway. There was no immediate follow up to this mini-series and when Deadman was trotted out for some later projects, they seemed intended as yet another change-of-direction, moving even further from the "kitchen sink" by emphasizing the horror/supernatural.

This isn't terrible, but like water off a duck's back, I'm having trouble even recalling it. Weird. Definitely something I'll have to read again.

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