The Damned

I’m becoming harder to impress in my old age, specifically when it comes to comics.

The Big Two keep putting out mega-crossover after countdown crisis, further alienating me from the cape and cowl set. Sure, Marvel and DC don’t represent all of the funny-book sales pie, but there’s no arguing they’re the Goliaths when compared to Dark Horse/Image/Devils Due’s David.

It’s not that I have anything against superheroes. Really, I don’t.

Superheroes represent the largest and most popular genre in the comics landscape. And while I can enjoy the occasional Superman, Batman, or Spider-Man romp, the spandex-clad boys and girls just don’t do it for me like they used to back in the day.

I equate it to the first time I saw a Marilyn Monroe pinup. Dear God, she left me speechless. I’d never seen a woman like her, ever. But after watching Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Seven Year Itch a few dozen times, I stumbled onto Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, and Ingrid Bergman. They became my new Marilyn Monroe. Each of them was a screen beauty but they were also great, classy actresses. My standards escalated a few levels. You might say the same happened to me with comics.

After stomaching poly-bagged, chrome, die-cut #1’s with more style than substance, I’ve come to demand more than just a pretty face. I want a good script and solid, consistent artwork that fits the story. Consequently, while my pull list has gotten smaller and smaller over the last few years, the books I do buy I tend to enjoy a great deal. So coming from a picky comics reader with a pretty high standard, it’s few and far between when I buy a book that simply floors me. But I’ll be damned if The Damned didn’t make this jaded fanboy stand up and take notice.

The Damned: Three Days Dead is a new trade paperback from writer Cullen Bunn and artist Brian Hurtt. It was originally released as a five-issue miniseries through Oni Press. I picked up the first three issues but ultimately employed the “wait for the trade” approach. So when the trade was announced, I quickly snatched it up. And now that I’ve read the entire story, I’m ready to shout down from the mountain on how amazing this book is.

The story follows Eddie, a hothead gangland enforcer that happens to be caught in the middle of a mob war. However, instead of featuring Corleone versus Sollozzo, Bunn and Hurtt’s version of mafia hostilities involves demons, ghosts, and devilish half-breeds. And while Eddie is most definitely a tough guy, he also happens to be dead man. That’s dead, as in, not alive. That doesn’t prevent demon boss Big Al from bringing Eddie back from the grave to finish a very important job. If it wasn’t enough that he can’t die, Eddie has to uncover a conspiracy of deceit and murder that runs through all the families and straight to hell.

The combination of prohibition-era gangsters and the supernatural may sound like a bizarre pairing but Bunn and Hurtt pull it off in spades. Cullen Bunn’s script is tight and well-paced. His dialogue is right out of the best crime/noir fiction without sounding contrived or derivative. Everyone talks like a tough guy but Bunn never gets lost in the sarcastic back-and-forths. Through Eddie, Bunn gives us a wise guy main character and an insider’s view into this strange world; a world where monsters run rackets and souls serve as currency. As we follow Eddie on his precarious journey towards the truth, Bunn keeps us on our toes. He hits us with double-crosses, betrayal, a femme fatale with a twist, and a giant demon hitman. The plot gets dirtier and dirtier but the writing remains spotless.

When it comes to the artwork, Brian Hurtt brings the pain. In a good way. Having seen his early work in Oni’s Skinwalker and Three Strikes, it’s easy to see that Hurtt has matured as an artist. His arcs on Oni’s Queen and Country, DC’s Gotham Central, and DC’s Hard Time provided the refining stints needed to bring his skills to the next level. In The Damned, Hurtt’s linework is terrific, bringing to mind shades of Mike Hawthorne and Guy Davis. The book may be in black and white but the lack of color compliments the story. Hurtt’s use of grayscales is spot on, adding a gritty, film noir texture to the pages. If anything, my only criticism would be that the visual pacing is sometimes rushed. This may be a simple matter of page restraints (remember, this was originally released as five, 22-page issues). Classic hard-boiled cinema like The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, and The Third Man let the characters fill the screen to heighten the noir atmosphere. I’m not talking about decompression; I’m talking about letting the pacing breathe a little longer and heavier, page constraints be damned (which I guess in this case would fit perfectly). But I’ll bite my tongue from further comment because, truly, Hurtt has outdone himself on this book.

If you can’t tell, I loved The Damned. And lucky for me, this October brings a three issue sequel titled The Damned: Prodigal Sons. But if you’re a still tentative about checking out The Damned: Three Days Dead, you can read the first 23-pages absolutely free at the Oni Press website. If you enjoy the preview, go to your local comic shop, run to Barnes and Noble, or order it over at Amazon. But more importantly, spread the word.

Link: The official The Damned comic website


Curtis Hoffmeister said...

I've got all five issues of the comic, AND the trade paperback. Can't wait for the next story arc!

Element X said...

Bunn and Hurrt are slated to be at this year's Wizard World Chicago. This is one of those few times where I'm taking my copy of the trade to get it signed by the creative team. Hopefully, they'll have some artwork for the next arc there so folks can check it out.


Cullen said...

Thanks so much for the kind words. Brian and I will definitely have some "sneak peeks" of the next series on hand in Chicago. Of course, we don't want to give too much away. Looking forward to it!