Review: Death Sentence
If you're tired of your comics being set in fantasy worlds, or your superheroes a little too chiselled and perfect, then Mike Dowling and MontyNero's Death Sentence might just be worth a look.
Imagine you were granted super human powers. Imagine that those super powers were the result of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Then imagine that disease leaves you with six months to live. What would you do?
It's this choice that frames the actions of our three lead characters: aspiring artist Verity, tortured musician Weasel and celebrity brat Monty.
Death Sentence is hip, urban and contemporary. It's also packed to the rafters with sex, drugs and rock and roll and it's tremendous fun. Superpowers are nothing new in the comic world, but you rarely see a comic with the audacity to have a sexually transmitted disease grant you superpowers. And creators Mike Dowling and MontyNero haven't finished as they turn a waspish tongue to the world of celebrity culture, the riots, the government - even the monarchy isn't safe in Death Sentence's world.
Arguably, few of the characters in Death Sentence have anything to recommend them, they are all damaged or deficient in one way or another. Drugs, sex and rock and roll become coping mechanisms. Monty's behaviour might well be hilarious, but his antics, for the first part are pure panto rather than the outright villainy he later indulges in. Weasel lives up to his name, becoming more and more introverted and cowardly. It therefore falls to Verity to be the heart of the story, and you quickly know what kinda girl she is when she reacts to the news of her diagnosis by telling her boss exactly where to shove his dead-end job. But this way of coping with the disease become ways into the story for MontyNero who uses them as a springboard off which to fire off his jibes at society.
Indeed, the state of Britain's society gets a thorough tongue lashing by the writers - specifically the brattish celebrity lifestyle that permeates life now. Some of the actions that Monty gets away with throughout the course of the comic are astonishing and does make you wonder how they've got away with publishing them!
Yet, Death Sentence does become uncomfortable, if nonetheless still gripping, by the end. Monty's effective mass rape of girls and his indiscriminate actions become wearing rather than amusing. There is a rich vein of black comedy that runs through Death Sentence, but Monty's actions divorce from this into a much darker seam of action. Sequences involving the Royal Family and Prime Minister have to been seen to be believed. For some, it will be a guilty pleasure nodding along with these scenes. For others, the ultraviolence and sex might feel puerile and childish.
But Death Sentence also explores this and discusses the consequences of choice. Much of this is done through the internal dialogue of each character. Verity's view of the world is particularly compelling and she is one of the more rounded and well characterised female characters seen in recent years in comics. It also explores the likely reaction from the powers that be to a sexually transmitted superpower epidemic - and it's as you'd expect - a reaction that by large wants to destroy. Following this through to its logical conclusion, Death Sentence plays out an engaging and innovative story that touches on social commentary whilst having raucous fun.
Titan Comics have collected together the first six issues in this luxury hardback, superbly illustrated by Dowling that allows both artwork and story to shine. Also included is a creator commentary that exposes the instantly readable Dowling and Nero as intelligent, thoughtful and exciting talent. It's just a shame that their excellent five part series on writing for comics that was included in the original issues isn't included here.
Death Sentence will be returning at some undefined point in the future, and I for one cannot wait. One of the most essential comics of 2013 has been collected in one of the best collections of the year so far.
Death Sentence Volume 1 is available now from Titan Comics priced £16.99.