Writer: Sarah Vaughn
Art: Lan Medina
Colors: Jose Villarrubia
Letters: Janice Chiang
Reading this new Deadman book will remind you of that one emo/goth friend you had in high school. It’s sometimes fun but it’s filled with artificial emotional struggles, needless melancholy, and is completely devoid of purpose or direction.
My colleague, Matthew Lung, has already reviewed the first issue (found here) but I’m going to review the, now completed, mini-series as whole. Fair warning, I’m mad enough to spout some spoilers so heads up.
Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love starts off the way you’d expect it to; with a haunted mansion. We are introduced Berenice, an existential twenty-something who has the all-too convenient ability to see ghosts, and her gender-fluid friend Sam. They are coming back from going antique shopping because this book is trying to be oh-so-hip and alternative when they see the titles namesake entering the house. Berenice’s keeps this sight to herself because of the whole “no one would believe that is see ghosts” trope, a scarier ghost makes its presence felt, Deadman is unable to leave the house, and mystery unfurls in the pages of this non-starter from DC.
I’ll admit, this book was a fun diversion from the whole “Rebirth” craze going on at DC. It’s always great to see Deadman in, well, anything and the art excels at capturing the foreboding, macabre, tension that the book seeks to cultivate. And…no that’s all it’s got.
First, the plot. The whole “haunted mansion with the spooky, spooky ghosts” thing is completely derivative, cliché, and predictable. Honestly, how many times have you seen
this set up in a horror book? I binged all three issues in a single sitting but I knew exactly where and how the story was going within, exactly, ten pages. Granted, that shouldn’t be a damning factor for a piece of horror fiction. Horror is built and defined by systematic, exacting genre tropes. True, but the book is then judged by how well they mold and sculpt those tropes to complete the individual arcs of their characters. Sarah Vaughn (writer) fails in this regard.
Let’s start Berenice and Sam. Though the book is called Deadman, Berenice and her ability to see ghosts and drive the plot clearly puts her at the forefront. The plot then becomes an excuse for her to go through the whole “accepting yourself for who you are” thing as she slowly comes to terms with her supernatural gift. This isn’t a sin on its own but Berenice’s arc is too undercooked to give the book any substance. Vaughn never gives us enough to understand what burden this curse has placed on her life or how it’s affected her so nobody cares. That, and Berenice is a stupid name. Vaughn might be making a reference to an Edgar Allen Poe short story of the same name, but if she’s not, she should stop trying to be different for different’s sake.
Meanwhile, Sam is a total misfire. Sam is depicted as being a gender-neutral character which, in turn, is supposed to be an outward manifestation of the type of person Berenice’s seeks to be (someone comfortable with all aspects of themselves blah, blah, blah….) but that’s the only thing we know about Sam. The character is never developed and their (not a grammar error, read the book) sole purpose is to be a barometer to measure how far Berenice has come on her personal journey. Oh, and Deadman can’t possess him for some reason and it’s never explained. It’s another loose plot point that the book fails to resolve.
Which reminds me, Deadman’s here. This book promises Boston Brand but barely delivers. He does get small intervals of time where he is driving the story but this is very much Berenice’s story. Deadman is on exposition duty as he’s there to only introduce plot points, react to Berenice’s actions, and to be on the covers. I’ve been a big fan of Deadman for a long time and this book fails to add anything to his character or his mythos. He’s relegated to be simple dress-up for this story that will in all likelihood be forgotten.
One last thing. The title doesn’t pertain to anything that happens in the book. The mansion is certainly dark but there’s nothing forbidden about the love that goes on inside of it. Hell, just about no love happens inside of it. It’s a misnomer and, ironically, perfectly encapsulates all the faults the story had.
The book is a fun diversion for horror fans and does contain some excellent art but those aren’t enough to save this dull, predictable, and cliché story. It’s a standard haunted mansion set-up that you’ve all read before that fails to serve either the story or the characters that drive it. The character arcs are underdeveloped, fail to come to fruition in a meaningful way, and Deadman is barely involved in the story. There’s no reason to read this mini-series.