By Ales Kot, Adam Gorham, Michael Spicer, and Dave Sharpe
Like the opening salvo to the latest James Bond film, Dead Drop #1 moves with a kinetic energy guided by a confident swagger coupled with stylish grit. Much like the thunderous impact of Aric’s arrival, it is also thoroughly grounded as opposed to the high-flying super-heroic theatrics one has come to expect from Valiant’s heavy-hitting protagonists. Kot, Gorham, and Spicer deliver a first issue that hits all the marks an introduction needs to while keeping the larger picture intentionally obscured in a well-structured blur. This is unquestionably an espionage tale that plays out on the streets of New York with a plot that ties to the heavens, the past, and hopefully, the future. It’s beautiful to look out, tonally concise, and it never stops running forward. The stakes are clear, the motivations are not, and the chase is on.
Speed, style, and the use of “some old-fashioned brute force” is omnipresent in Gorham’s art throughout. A touch of Darwyn Cooke by way of Kagan Macleod, Gorham has a way of controlling the way your eye moves around the page akin to the parkour grace of this issue’s boundless target. There is just a ton of energy pushing through each panel and it keeps the pacing in rhythm with the chase unfolding therein. His line is confident and bold, thick enough to draw attention to the heft of its subjects, but light enough to convey the grace of their movements. There’s some great panel transitions; overlapping sequences that zoom in one necessary tools of destruction, and cuts to and fro that put you firmly into the most exciting of Jason Bourne-like action. You get swept up in what is ostensibly a 22-page chase scene that delivers the same buzz and impact of actual moving images thanks to the effectively heavy dose of speed lines and quick subject-to-subject shifts that give way at just the right times to slow down and spotlight a particularly breathtaking maneuver. Seriously, the rhythmic control that Gorham puts on display atop the street-level ambiance basically forces the Run, Lola, Run soundtrack to play on loop as you read. The cartooning is on point, with occasionally alternating levels of detail in respect to facial features, but the forms are consistent poetry in motion and the setting unmistakably the Big Apple, replete with spattered inks and hatching to make clear that fine layer of familiar grime. Backgrounds come and go and Gorham certainly shows great restraint with regards to only putting down what needs to be picked up in order to best deliver the action and mood called for by Kot’s grounded script.
Utilizing a well-worn, but effective method of a past briefing overlapping the present events, Kot has Neville lay out for both Aric (X-O Manowar himself) and the reader the what’s and who’s of what we’re witnessing without needing to interrupt the action for explanation. Of course, we discover that things are a little more complex than initially described and perhaps the spy-master was holding back a few key pieces of intel. Kot is no stranger to the espionage genre and he lays it all out on the table from the get-go that’s what we’re dealing in here, so Neville’s intentionally dry dialogue fits and the short but sweet cell phone conversations of our target all fit well. The handle on Aric’s dialogue is a little less firm, with our hero uttering far more modern exasperations (i.e. “Oh come on” and a contextualized “damn it”) than we’ve come to expect from the time-displaced Visigoth. Though, that too is addressed with a quippy back and forth between Aric and Neville that highlights the surprise of a Visigoth coming to better terms with the idea of irony. Really though, the dialogue is smartly very sparingly the focal point and Kot’s script is tightly written and sharply executed, especially when paired with the fluidity of Gorham’s art. It’s all about establishing the tone and blending the superhero genre into the far darker spy thriller oeuvre and that’s made readily apparent by our alien-armored warrior running on foot through the entire issue as opposed to flying high above the streets.
Getting that tone right and evoking the grace and brute force found within these pages is a task Michael Spicer absolutely nailed. More so than just the killer muted and earthen palette that made striking use of golden yellows, is the manner of application. There’s a painterly quality to the color that recalls a Kindt-like quality; not so much water-colored, but certainly a brushed texture to be found amongst the speed lines and dirtied streets. It feels worn and how a Dick Tracy comic would have looked had they these modern coloring techniques. Paired with Gorham’s kinetic pencils and ink, it all hits like a stylized and graffitied wall complete with the appropriate layers of soot. The only divergence from this comes in the form of a glimpse into space, where Spicer thankfully decides to go all-out trippy with the saturated hues of your favorite black light poster. There’s complementing the art and then there’s elevating the art; Spicer has very much accomplished the latter.
Like any good first issue worth its salt, there’s no filler and there’s no moment wasted. Is it set-up? Of course, but it’s setting things up while establishing the type of story this is going to be through a highly captivating action sequence that leaves little doubt of the world we’re in and exactly what the cost of failure will mean. All the unanswered questions are clearly by design and waiting to see where this ball of low-down spy thrills paired with frenetic visuals is heading, by all indications, will be worth the wait.