January 21, 2012

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Single Minded: Dead Man's Run

 It's time to keep being Single Minded!  While every other edition I've done so far of this feature have been in relation to a digital comic, this time I actually have a paper copy in my hands this time.

It feels weird!

Anyway, this time around, I'm examining Dead Man's Run, Written by Greg Pak and illustrated by Tony Parker.  Aspen Comics.

Prison life can be hell, as anyone will tell you.  It's not easy being the person guarding any powder keg, let alone one with a mysterious set of subbasements.  When Captain Romero faces an outbreak at the prison, he learns the secret of his institution--it's literally got a link to the damned.  Just how can you stop a riot in a place where corruption and evil are as common as the foul air that's found there?  When the captain finds out he's just as damned as the rest, only an innocent soul can save the day, whether he wants to or not.  With souls on the line and damnation at every turn, what will happen next in this Dead Man's Run?

Long-time Panel Patter readers know that I love Greg Pak's writing.  He's good at long-term planning (witness his years on Hulk), creating new and engaging characters (both good and evil), witty dialog (Hercules, anyone?), and taking familiar concepts in new directions.  In this case, Pak is working with all of the mythology surrounding our perceptions of hell, starting with Dante and working his way around others.  In this case, Pak has pictured the land of eternal damnation as a giant prison, which is a brilliant idea.  That in and of itself would make this comic worth reading.  But Pak adds to the idea, by showing that it's a prison rife with corruption and problems, where anyone who gets there can use their evil nature to survive, and perhaps even thrive.

If it ended there, we'd be golden.  Except that Pak raises the stakes even higher, by showing that good people end up in hell, too, often through no fault of their own.  In such a terrible, hopeless place, how long can they hold out?  We get the Cartographer, a young man who can work his way through any maze, and his sister, a young girl with full faith in her brother, trapped in this place through the mechanations of a flawed prison guard.  Dead Man's Run looks to be a story about faith, redemption, and determination, with a huge possibility that all will be lost in the end.  In just these two short pieces of story, Pak sets up so much, and does it all while giving the reader a good story that can be read issue to issue, which is no easy task these days.

Though it's early yet, I love the characterization.  Romero is the bad guy we can sort-of like, who isn't about to go down easy.  The cartographer is a good person who is about to be tried to his limits.  Will he gain his sister but lose his soul?  Or break open hell itself to the earth, damning all in an attempt to right the wrong of his and his sister's deaths?  Is his sister as good as Pak is letting us believe?  And what of the Warden of Hell, who seems like a vile person but might be just as trapped as the cartographer and his sister?  So much is hinted at, giving this series huge potential that I can't wait to see developed as the story moves on.

I've never seen Tony Parker's work, but I really like the look he brings to the series.  The character designs are crisp, with fine linework that appears to be a house style for Aspen, based on the other ads in these comics.  He does a lot of good camera angle work, with characters reaching out to the reader at times, which makes for a creepy feeling, given they're pulling for you from hell itself.  I wish there was a bit more emotion in his faces, and a few scenes were a bit hard to follow, but overall, it's very solid work that keeps the script moving.

Dead Man's Run looks like a great series, and I'm glad to have gotten a chance to read this one.  My only complaint is that Aspen, despite having a digital presence on multiple platforms, is not offering this electronically.  It's hard for me in my cramped space to keep single issue comics.  I really wish that I could buy the next set of issues for my computer and iPad instead of in print.  But since Pak is so good, I might just make an exception.  If your comic store can get this for you, order it.  Anyone who likes Pak needs to get on this series now, or they're going to regret it.  Fans of conceptual comics will be damning themselves if they forget to grab this one as well.  Dead Man's Run is going to make a good run of comics.  Start reading now!

My thanks to Greg Pak for providing a review copy.  If you are interested in having a comic reviewed by me, please contact me at trebro@gmail.com.