18 Jan 2012

Cover To Cover: DEAD MAN'S RUN #1

Writer: Greg Pak
Art: Tony Parker & David Curiel
Aspen $3.50

Stewart R: He’s a man who’s impressed me with his work with the Marvel canon, and now Greg Pak is putting his writing skills to a new project with a very supernatural feel over at Aspen. The story follows Sam Tinker, a cartographer who’s landed a rather dangerous job at the most dangerous prison on the planet; a penitentiary that sits on the very gateway into Hell! When his military veteran boss meets a sticky end, plans are set in motion that leave Sam sat on the wrong side of that gateway with no apparent way out...but then Sam is no ordinary man! Driven on by the need to save his younger sister, Juniper, who may well be stranded in the same brimstone-encrusted nightmare, Sam may just possess the natural skills to attempt the most daring prison break of them all!

Pak starts off well by establishing the strong, caring bond between Sam and his sister and links that to a nice flashback that offers a tiny glimpse of the young man’s abilities. From there things - just like Sam’s final moments in the living world - get turned upside down as he arrives in the most dangerous of locales. I have to say that I really find the idea of Hell - or at least the tip of that particular flaming iceberg - as a processing facility for the dead and guilty to be a very interesting concept and it allows Pak to play with and warp the general tropes associated with prison thrillers to fit the themes of judgement and punishment that are associated with the underworld. There are the threatening grins, the concealed shivs and knives associated with many works of fiction surrounding incarceration but also the involvement of demon-like guards and the feeding upon souls that you’ll find in horror works and Pak brings it all together brilliantly.

In Sam, it initially feels as if we might have an everyman type of protagonist on our hands, as he’s portrayed as that caring, responsible guardian, just trying to do the right thing. Before too long though, we get to see a bubbling confidence that rises to the surface in between the moments of bewildering chaos and blows to the skull and suggests that he might have what some call ‘grit’ by the bucket-load. A clever twist later provides us with another insight to just why Mr Tinker could be in even further trouble and I suspect that this series may well ooze with delicious character development as things progress.

Tony Parker certainly delivers a great turn on artistic duties with simple and effective facial expression work which really helps to capture the feeling of fear and shock that Sam and others experience through the course of the issue. He also gets to deliver some great panels that depict the engulfing horror of Hell - the sea of limbs that swallows Sam is a definite highlight! - and no-one can fault him whatsoever for his superb variety of viewing angles. I often find that some comics with a hell/horror twist can get a little too caught up in the disgusting, unnerving surrounds but here Parker succeeds by focusing in on what makes any prison a horrifying prospect by itself, and then adds little flairs of the supernatural here and there to spice things up further.

This is an enjoyable first issue that has me very much anticipating the adventure to come. The writing is sharp and snappy and the art is perfectly suited to the premise, delivering to the usually high standard of visual that I’ve come to expect from Aspen as a publisher. Definitely worth poking your nose into this week and I’ll also recommend picking up the #0 for the generous price of $2.50 while you’re at it (if your Local Comic Book Store has one). Released last November, this prelude offers a further insight into Captain Romero, Sam’s deceased boss, and just what his intentions are when it comes to the plucky young cartographer. 8/10

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