By Kyle Higgins, Stephen Mooney, Jordie Bellaire and Clayton Cowles
A new thriller, The Dead Hand, from the Image Comics stable emerges. This is a period in comics where thrillers, particularly with espionage elements playing a role in the the plot, are flooding shops. It all makes sense since those stories are about intrigue and mystery, which have never lost any sort of appeal since James Bond sprung into action. Due to a tendency towards this subgenre, comic fans are being inundated with subpar, generic thriller comics. Luckily, this book is strong return to form with a much needed edge and innovation.
The Dead Hand revolves around a man who was one of the top operatives during the Cold War, Carter Carlson. Near the end of this era, he discovers a massive secret while in Russia on assignment. The story then jumps to Carlson’s life post-Cold War where he is the sheriff of a quaint, Rockwellian town. It’s in this quiet town where an event takes place that will no doubt shake up the status quo. One of noteworthy aspect of this comic is how writer Kyle Higgins melds three storylines happening at different time periods into a single issue and have them all flow amazingly well. Also, even with all the exposition, the content never felt dense or dull. Higgins kept the narration and dialog succinct and focused on the narrative essentials. The art team was also given room to tell the story on their terms, allowing the illustrations to say more than any words could.
What’s also impressive is how fully formed Carter Carlson feels by the end of the comic, yet the creators leave enough to realize there’s still so much more to him that will unfold as the story continues. He becomes a dynamic character from the first few pages and doesn’t feel like a knock-off from established properties in the same genre. Other characters in the issue feel lived-in as well, despite feeling nonspecific in some circumstances and that the majority show up in the last third of the comic. This goes back to Kyle Higgins’ skill with dialog to create believable, engaging characters.
Stephen Mooney and Jordie Bellaire also contribute some amazing storytelling to Dead Hand. Along with the cover art, the splash pages and the double-page spread are the most prominent and potent examples of what these two artists are capable of. The work is inventive, captivating and immersive. The character designs aren’t derived from one body form, each one is clearly distinctive and given a life. It gives the book depth most artists aren’t capable of or are willing to devote the time to. This is absolutely aided by Bellaire’s color work. She, of course, brings a strong sense of atmosphere and vibrancy to every scene, but it seems her work truly shines with how she uses varying shades of colors in panels or pages to show the impact of lighting in an image, to bring that three-dimensional perspective. It’s subtle, yet impactful. Lately, that’s such a rare skill for colorists. Jordie Bellaire’s deft skill with the color spectrum combined with Mooney’s elaborate inking brings a real sense agency and overpowering darkness to a lot of the book.
Overall, this is a robust debut issue from this creative team. There is passion, talent and skill embedded within every page and, nothing feels inconsequential. Readers looking for a fresh, colorful book, look no further. The Dead Hand will breathe new life into one’s comic book appetite.