Dead Drop #1

Dead Drop #1
Written by Ales Kot
Illustrated by Adam Gorham
Colors by Michael Spicer
Letters by Dave Sharpe
Design by Jared K. Fletcher
Valiant Comics

Over the past several months, Valiant Comics have launched a number of ambitious new series which take a different perspective on their superhero universe (The Valiant and Divinity are two examples of this). That trend continues with a strong, kinetic, stylish debut for the new series Dead Drop, from writer Ales Kot and artist Adam Gorham (with great colors from Michael Spicer).  As shown in Zero (my review here), Kot knows how to tell an espionage story with sci-fi and superheroic elements, and to bring a level of realism and political edge to a fantastical tale.

The promising start begins on the cover, which feels feels like something out of the mid 1960's (like the stylish design on Catch Me If You Can). The second page of the issue gives a short map of where in New York (and on what page) the chase sequence will take place. These art/design elements work to give the story a sense of place and grounding (not always the case in superhero stories). The story itself is minimalist and taut. The entire issue is essentially an extended chase sequence as Valiant superhero X-O Manowar follows someone through the streets of New York City in order to recover a dangerous virus. However, as the cover page tells you, not all is as it appears.

X-O- Manowar is an interesting choice for the lead character in this story; he's not who you'd typically imagine in an espionage setting (normally this would involve someone like Ninjak).  X-O Manowar is sort of what you get if you combine together all of the Avengers' "Big Three": he wears a super-powered suit (like Iron Man), he's a man out of time (like Captain America, though X-O Manowar is from 1,600 years in the past), and he's royalty so he has a regal bearing (like Thor).  This issue doesn't really dive into his past though; it's tightly focused on the current story, where X-O Manowar is chasing someone who's running and hiding through Manhattan, and who has a dangerous virus in their possession.  We get a sense of just how dangerous this is when Neville Alcott of MI-6 (X-O Manowar's handler) describes to him (and the reader) the origins of this particularly violent virus.

This is a tightly written, highly engaging first issue, with terrific art that really pushes the story along.  It's also not something that requires any real prior knowledge of the Valiant universe. Gorham and Spicer really do great work here conveying the sense of motion and weight of the chase that dominates the issue.  When a character is running or flying or jumping, the art really sells it, which makes for an exciting read. The linework here is detailed but not hyper-realistic; this feels like a classic superhero story, but with a more widescreen, cinematic appeal. The art team also makes an interesting choice with respect to the coloring of this issue; the entire issue has a muted, washed-out feel to it.  The effect makes this look and feel a little like an indie comic, and the colors look just a little like the watercolor work done in Mind MGMT (though with very different art).  Combined with Gorham's classic superhero illustration style, this gives the comic a more "vintage" feel (as opposed to the very modern colors and art used in something like Ivar, Timewalker or Bloodshot: Reborn (reviews here and here). All of this combines to give the art a more timeless quality, in the best possible way.

Kot has a great, distinctive voice in comics and is concerned with war and the consequences of warfare, the military industrial complex, and technological threats. These are themes that are present in Zero, his Secret Avengers run,  and in The Surface (review here). They're addressed here as well.  As explained by Neville, this virus was originally created by an alien civilization to wipe out planets of their native life forms in order for this civilization to settle those planets. Somehow the virus gained sentience, and returned to its maker, angry.  It's pretty on-the-nose, but it's a great metaphor for (quite literally) our own dependence on antibiotics and antibacterial products, and more generally, the tendency for technology and science to get out of our control and bite us in the ass (or utterly destroy us).  It's also clear that there are things going on here that X-O Manowar doesn't yet know or understand; he was a king but he was also a warrior, and the world of subtlety and spycraft is something new to him. These potential conflicts should make for a great read (I enjoy seeing characters placed in unfamiliar situations outside their comfort zones), and the creative team is off to a promising start in this issue.

If you're enjoying the Valiant universe and some of the interesting changes they're taking, or just looking for an engaging read that provide a great, propulsive sense of forward motion, you should take a look at Dead Drop.