Death Be Damned TPB
Story: Ben Acker & Ben Blacker, Andrew Miller
Art: Hannah Christenson
Colors: Juan Useche
Publisher: Boom! Comics
Review by Malcolm Derikx
The West is a lonely, empty place. Vast frontiers, endless expanses of sky and desert so quiet, so all encompassing, that it’s liable to devour every unlucky soul who would dare dwell within it. You can really lose yourself in all that blue sky and brown earth- and that’s the story told in Death be Damned. The creative team has crafted a story filled with supernatural horror and gritty gunfights. In short? A total blast to read.
Death Be Damned tells the story of Miranda Coler. At the start of our story, we find Miranda dead in a puddle, after a band of outlaws have slaughtered her husband and only child. When Miranda unexpectedly comes back from the dead she’s, quite understandably, pissed off. She sets off with a rifle into town to take revenge- and promptly gets shot in the head by the first outlaw she sees. Ouch.
Revenge isn’t easy, but Miranda is determined. Accompanied by Joseph, the local undertaker/necromancer, Miranda sets off after those who’ve wronged her- but there are consequences for upsetting the balance of life and death, as our heroes will come to learn, when a supernatural beast, The Turquoise Man, is sent to hunt them down. The dialog is suitably gritty, the plot is well-paced, and the story is carried by the interactions between Miranda and Joseph, both interesting and well-developed characters in their own right. (Sidebar: It’s really cool to see a western where the protagonist isn’t just another Clint Eastwood knock-off.). It’s a simple tale of revenge that Acker & Blacker have here, but it takes full advantage of common Wild West tropes and injects them with some fresh ideas.
As Miranda tries to gain her revenge, every death has her losing a bit more of her memory- and she finds herself stuck more and more in the Underneath, the Land of the Dead, where souls intermingle and are absorbed by the Earth. It’s a really interesting take on the supernatural West- instead of a simple “zombie”, Miranda is something else. Miranda comes to rely upon Joseph as the comic goes on to keep track of who she is, and what she’s fighting for. This is a really intriguing idea that doesn’t get explored during the first chunk of the story- but after a particular “incident” mid-way through the book Acker & Blacker flesh out this concept in a very satisfying way. I was particularly transfixed by a page-spread wherein Joseph records bits of Miranda’s life, her hazy memories splayed across the night sky as they ride a lonesome trail toward a revenge Miranda is coming to understand less and less.
This all said, my main gripe with the story is the ending. While the conclusion is suitably epic and delivers a satisfying emotional payoff for all the characters, it feels more than a little rushed. I felt as if the comic deserved five issues instead of four to better flesh-out some aspects of both the villains who have targeted Miranda, and the Turquoise Man, the dreadful reanimated defender of the Underneath. Still, while it doesn’t completely stick the ending, I think it’s telling that I wanted to experience more of what is there, instead of less.
Art-wise, Hannah Christenson and colorist Juan Useche basically knock it out of the park. Sequences exploring the Underneath are gorgeously laid out, dull orange memories tangled with the pale blue roots of some vast tree, Miranda floating within this cacophony of vines like she’s underwater. The art left an impression on me; Christenson and Useche bounce off each other well, and I’d love to see them tackle another project together. There are some beautiful page-spreads, and the linework has this scratchy, gritty quality to it that fits the aesthetics of the West. The covers are gorgeous as well, almost like a movie poster.
A strong buy from me. If you like supernatural-westerns like The Sixth Gun, Wyonna Earp or Deadlands, you’ll find something to love here. The art is strong, the plot is fast-paced and rewarding. Check it out!