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Dead Letters – Volume 1

Written by Christopher Sebela (@xtop)

Illustrated by Chris Visions (@chrisvisi0ns)

Colors by Ruth Redmond & Matt Battaglia

Letters by Steve Wands

Review by Joey Braccino

The first thing I remember is I can’t remember anything at all.”

Sam Whistler wakes up in a dingy motel room in dirty scrubs and bandages. The phone is ringing–there are footsteps on the stairs outside. Shouting. Gunshots. “They’re coming, Sam. You’d better start running. ::Click::”

Do you see it???

Do you see it???

And with that, Dead Letters is off and running. BOOM! Studios’ latest genre-bending series from Chris Sebela (Ghost and Captain Marvel) and Chris Visions, Dead Letters is equal parts hard-boiled mystery noir and high-concept fantasy piece. Our moody anti-hero protagonist, Sam Whistler, is thrust into a web of intrigue and gang warfare and philosophy after waking up in a strange land with a hearty dose of Bourne Identity memory loss. And by Bourne Identity I mean Sam can’t remember who he is or how he got into this mess, but he still retains all of his muscle memory; his instincts lean toward violence and murder and crime in a such a way that he soon realizes he must have been a very bad man in his past life. Sam is quickly recruited into a bizarre triangle gang war between Ma, Mr. Jones, and God that pushes him further and further down the rabbit hole of souls and heaven and hell and free will.

Yeah, that got heavy real quick. And yeah, I said God. The omnipotent, omniscient God—or at least his intermediary Maia—is a third-party recruiter in Dead Letters, who plays Sam off of the other two gangs. The first issue of Volume 1 operates a breakneck pace with Sam’s chaotic confrontation with Ma and Jones’ gangs. The chaos culminates in Maia’s big reveal: this world—“HERE” as the locals call it—is essentially purgatory (which means exactly what you would think; everyone’s dead, no one can get hurt, souls are being judged, etc.). Here is a bizarre pastiche of culture and imagery from across history—Jones’ crew is straight out of Boardwalk Empire, Ma’s gang has Eastern influences in design, and I’m pretty sure Sam drives a Ford Pinto as a getaway car—and Sebela slowly leaks out more and more as he builds the world of Dead Letters over these first four issues collected in Volume 1.

Dead Letters is loaded with heavy theological and philosophical musings about mortality, spirituality, and free-will, but Sebela is careful to balance the heady with the hard-boiled. Sam’s inner monologue is straight noir: gritty, amoral, and revealing. Sam’s attempts to blackmail and manipulate all three parties (including God!) play out deliberately over the course of the four episodes, and layers are added to layers as new, increasingly terrifying players are added to the board. Sebela builds the mystery and conflict just as carefully as he does the world of Here, making for a very compelling, engaging, unique series.

Page One.

Page One.

Chris Vision’s grungy aesthetic is perfect for Sebela’s grounded noir. The lines and layouts have a grit and vigor that energize each and every page. The aforementioned pastiche qualities to Sebela’s setting is capture in intense detail by Vision, and, in a world where no one can really die, the violence has a weight and consequence. The colors from Ruth Redmond and Matt Battaglia are a fascinating blend of vibrant purples, reds, and greens, further the surreal nature of Here. Overall, the visual experience in Dead Letters is as unique and engaging as the mystery of the story, though I do feel that the inks and shadows tend to be a bit too heavy, muddling some of the action in some sequences.

Verdict

 Check it out! Chris Sebela and Chris Visions’ Dead Letters has received glowing reviews for its distinct interpretation of the noir genre. The afterlife conceit mixes perfectly with the gritty crime drama, and Sam Whistler is exactly the sort of amoral anti-hero we love to root for. BOOM! has been a roll the last year or so, so pick up this trade and catch on up!!!

**Dead Letters – Volume collects the first four issues of this ongoing series. Dead Letters #5 will be released in September 2014.

One Response

  1. Gary Chapin

    Nice review. Between you and Steve’s recommendations I picked this up and loved it. I love that it goes right back to noir’s origins with direct parallels to Dashiell Hammett’s first novel, “Red Harvest” (1929). That book was basically the original tough-guy-comes-to-town-and-turns-everyone-against-each-other (also the basis for the Bruce Willis movie “Last Man Standing”). “Dead Letters” is an homage to Hammett. Hammett’s character was called “The Continental Op,” Sam is referred to on the cover of this volume as “The Existential Op.” Hammett’s character also had no history (memory), not because he couldn’t remember it, but because it just didn’t matter. Good Lord, I love this stuff. Favorite line: God’s agent says to Sam, “Stop making this religious.” Thanks, Gary

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