Are you looking forward to a new comic book but it’s impossible for you to wait for its release before you know what we thought about it? That’s why there’s DoomRocket’s Advanced Reviews — now we assess books you can’t even buy yet. This week: ‘The Dead Hand’ #1, out April 11 from Image Comics.
By Brendan F. Hodgdon. One wonders, upon reaching the end of The Dead Hand #1, how much writer Kyle Higgins was inspired by current events in his decision to tell this story. What in some ways feels like a throwback espionage tale also carries an added immediacy thanks to the ongoing calamity surrounding Russia’s real-world attempts to interfere in American politics. But even removed from the current cultural context, this debut issue from Higgins and Stephen Mooney delivers excitement and intrigue with style and ease.
The structure of the issue is interesting, in part because Higgins’ script actively antagonizes the adage of “show, don’t tell”. The middle portion of the issue is an extended montage sequence where we get the backstory of super-spy Carter Carlson, where an omniscient narrator monologues through Carlson’s past up to the present day. What really sells this sequence (and allows it to not feel purely like an exposition dump) is Mooney’s art, which includes several double-page collage splashes mixed with quiet slices of natural Americana.
The stylistic agility Mooney displays in this montage helps bridge the gap between the narrative sequences that open and close the issue. The beginning recalls the opening of GoldenEye, filtered through the lens of Metal Gear Solid. The ending, however, is much more subdued and naturalistic, and stripped of all the genre trappings you might have expected going into the book. Mooney handles all of this very well, and makes it all feel of a piece, which is particularly essential for what he and Higgins are trying to pull off here.
On a narrative level, Higgins is very clever about how he structures things, allowing him to mix a wide variety of components and subgenres in a way that feels seamless. But it’s not so much that he throws a bunch of different kinds of spy stories into a blender, as that would suggest that it’s all homogenized. Rather, he strings some very distinct ingredients together with well-considered connective tissue, which not only suggests a multilayered journey for Carlson (growing from Steve Rogers to Solid Snake and beyond) but sets up fertile storytelling ground for the rest of the series. Higgins’ choice to have the narration be in third-person rather than first-person also gives the series an almost fantastical vibe that is most welcome, as it helps distinguish the series from the usual hard-bitten espionage fare.
What really brings it all together is the strong sense of place that is established by both the writing and the art. Higgins, Mooney and Bellaire work in harmony to sell us not just on the comfortable suburbia, but also the bitter and bleak Russian cold and the quiet stillness of a rural mountain town. These carefully-considered settings also speak to the nature of Colson’s character throughout the story, and help convey the inner workings of the character in subtle ways.
As far as debut issues go, this is certainly a top-tier example of how to do it right. The creative team works well together to craft a detailed mystery that clearly still has a lot left to reveal about its world and its characters. I’m confident that The Dead Hand will be providing us with some great thrills throughout this summer, and beyond.
Written by Kyle Higgins.
Art by Stephen Mooney.
Colors by Jordie Bellaire.
Letters & Design by Clayton Cowles.
9 out of 10
‘The Dead Hand’ #1 hits stores April 11.