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: ‘Dead Rabbit’ #1, out October 3 from Image Comics.

Dead Rabbit

Cover to ‘Dead Rabbit’ #1. Art by John McCrea, Mike Spicer and Manny Mederos/Image Comics

THIS ADVANCE REVIEW OF ‘DEAD RABBIT’ #1 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.

by Brendan Hodgdon. With his time at Marvel seemingly winding down with the epic Infinity Wars event, Gerry Duggan is starting to lay the groundwork for his creator-owned future at publishers like Image Comics. Earlier this year he debuted Analog to great success, delivering a smart and engaging action tale that’s already been optioned for a film adaptation. And now he’s seen fit to double down with the new title Dead Rabbit, and lucked into a partnership with the esteemed artist John McCrea in the process. The results are a shotgun-blast of pure awesome right to the kisser.

As anyone who is fluent in Gaelic (or who has read the Gangs of New York IMDb trivia) can tell you, the phrase “Dead Ráibéad” roughly translates to “man to be greatly feared.” Whether or not this was the intent behind Duggan’s phonetically-similar title, it is a very apt descriptor for the alter ego of Martin, the series’ protagonist. And considering the heightened, comic-book-friendly component of the Dead Rabbit mask/identity, the reality of the series could easily be of the same super-stylized sort as the John Wick films. But thankfully, Duggan and McCrea do not let the badassery of the titular mantle overwhelm the humanity of the man underneath.

Instead, it is the earnest and warm characterization of Martin and his wife Megan that make Dead Rabbit #1 such a successful first issue. From the embarrassingly raw circumstances under which we first meet Martin to the sobering nature of Megan’s illness, the emotional stakes are tangible. Megan illness gives the book a certain humanity, adding urgency and tension while also evoking one’s sympathy. And their interplay, which ranges from light to heavy, is charming.

There are smart narrative flourishes throughout this issue that help elevate the whole affair. Duggan’s approach to exposition is one of them. The way he mixes a news report about Dead Rabbit with various people’s personal recollections not only establishes the backstory but demonstrates how mythic a figure he really was. And this intelligence also bleeds through to the characters, all of whom are generally sharp-minded and capable. Duggan uses this to up the ante in every scene, and avoid the standard plot beats often found in this kind of story.

Beyond the character-centric elements, Duggan is also reflecting the world around us in a direct (and almost casual) way. As with Analog, he’s using real-world issues and pressure points to add context to the story without letting it overwhelm the plot or characters. In this case, it’s the lingering aftermath of the financial crisis and the perpetual health care angst that deepen the impact of the tale. Duggan isn’t preaching here, though; rather, he drops his characters into a real situation and then lets them respond to it in the way that best suits them. It lends Dead Rabbit extra weight.

And then there’s John McCrea. McCrea, the venerable pulp artist behind such cult favorites as DC’s Hitman, is doing great stuff with Dead Rabbit. He largely matches the grounded tome of the book with an appropriately weathered aesthetic. But when the Dead Rabbit comes out to play, McCrea finds room to stretch his style a bit. His design for the mask is both cool and a little unsettling, and the action that accompanies it is fluid yet brutal. He has the honed instincts of a seasoned pro, knowing when a splash panel will play into a laugh or when a wide-angle will emphasize the quiet tension of a moment. There are a whole bunch of younger readers (like myself) who will be reintroduced to McCrea with this series, and he seems more than ready to blow our socks off.

Dead Rabbit is a propulsive caper comic of a very high order. If this is the kind of work that Gerry Duggan plans to do when he’s finished at the House of Ideas, then Ed Brubaker better keep an eye on his King of Crime Comics crown. And if this is the kind of next-level work that we can expect from John McCrea, then thank goodness he has this new monthly platform with which to play. It’s not a pairing I would’ve anticipated, but damn do they play well together.

Image Comics/$3.99

Written by Gerry Duggan.

Art by John McCrea.

Colors by Mike Spicer.

Letters by Joe Sabino.

Edited by Will Dennis.

Logo by Manny Mederos.

8.5 out of 10

‘Dead Rabbit’ #1 hits stores October 3.

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