Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love
Writer: Sarah Vaughn
Artist: Lan Medina (with Phil Hester)
Colorist: José Villarrubia
Letterer: Janice Chiang
Cover: Stephanie Hans
Publisher: DC Comics
A review by Nico Sprezzatura
While “superhero” is considered a genre unto itself by many, you can tell many kinds of stories while working inside it. Science fiction, high fantasy, crime noir, and beyond — some of the best superhero sagas integrate elements of other genres into their framework.
Originally published as a three-issue, prestige format limited series and collected in trade paperback this week, Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love takes its titular superhero —a body-hopping ghost otherwise named Boston Brand—and throws him in the middle of a spooky gothic romance. The result? A strong, standalone work of superhero fiction that barely resembles many other works of its ilk.
Without getting into specifics, Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love tells the tale of Berenice, a gifted young woman who, upon moving into a sparse mansion in the middle of nowhere with her fiance, meets Deadman — himself compelled to the mansion when he intercepts the distress call of a spirit named Adelia. It doesn’t take long for things to get frightening and supernatural.
Having previously written in the romance genre with her creator-owned work Alex + Ada, writer Sarah Vaughn swaps that title’s science fiction trappings for gothic horror here, using Deadman as our trojan horse into this series.
While he’s certainly a major player throughout, I’d struggle to call Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love a Deadman story; instead, it’s a story that Deadman happens to feature in. And that’s not a criticism in the slightest — Deadman’s secondary status to Berenice (our actual protagonist) may even be one of Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love’s biggest strengths. You can easily imagine a version of this story that doesn’t even feature Deadman, but a prior understanding of the character certainly doesn’t hurt the reading experience.
Because of how detached it is from the larger DC Universe (and especially the DC Rebirth branding), I’d heartily recommend Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love to people who don’t consider themselves fans of the superheroes, and especially those who like spooky gothic fare and ghost stories. It’s definitely more Turn of The Screw than Justice League, that’s for sure.
Genre aside, Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love is refreshingly modern and forward-thinking in ways that might seem otherwise insignificant. At one point in the story, for example, Berenice talks plainly about her friend (and love interest) Sam’s non-binary gender identity, which Boston quickly accepts without judgement. Adelia, as well, is treated sympathetically, and it quickly becomes clear that she’s not our antagonist. Comparatively small things, sure, but they add to the narrative instead of distracting from it.
Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love is very reminiscent of Mike Grell’s 1987 series Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters — not because they’re thematically similar (they’re aren’t) but rather, because they’re both pencil-drawn comics originally published in prestige format.
Drawn by Lan Medina and colored by José Villarrubia, their illustrations have a soft, sketchy quality to them that defined much of Grell’s most notable works, which fits the tone of Vaughn’s script perfectly. Aesthetically speaking, it’s quite different that what you’ll see in DC’s mainline books, and further proves that tonal diversity is important at the Big Two.
Letterer Janice Chiang turns in some great lettering work as well, conveying Vaughn’s script clearly while applying distinctive touches to dialogue and narration. Berenice’s narration boxes are rendered in pale blue, for example, while Deadman’s narration is boxed in red, and his white dialogue bubbles are outlined in red strokes. When the story takes a scary turn, a foreboding presence black dialogue bubbles match the tone of their dialogue. Thoughtful lettering always deserves a mention, and Chiang’s contributions to the story add a lot to the whole package.
Buy it! Whether or not you’re a fan of its titular superhero, Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love offers a spooky Gothic romance that will delight fans of the genre, as well as Deadman himself.