DEATHBED #1 / By: Joshua Williamson & Riley Rossmo / Colors by: Ivan Plascencia / Letters by: Deron Bennett / Release Date: February 21, 2018 / Published by: DC Comics
There are some comic books that leave one speechless. Perhaps the art is a wonder to behold. Perhaps the story is personally resonant. Or maybe the shock of what one has experienced is too intense to be put into words. Deathbed #1 fits into the latter category. One part horror and one part personal reflection, the issue is something to be experienced first-hand rather than contemplated in a review. Nevertheless I shall try.
The issue begins in the relative past with the birth of a baby named Antonio; it takes place in a jungle environment with dinosaur/dragon things and mummies. This is followed by the two-page title spread that has a number of pictures next to years (presumably events that Antonio participated in). Following that the issue travels to the present where it introduces Valentine Richards. Val has always wanted to be a writer, and she found some success as a ghost writer. She’s been offered another ghost writing gig for a man named Antonio Luna—a man Val has never heard of. Val doesn’t want to ghost write anymore, but she’s about to lose her job so she takes the gig. She travels to Antonio’s house where a maid leads her past testaments to Antonio’s achievements and to his apparent deathbed. Antonio tells a story of a man who reinvented himself at every occasion, doing what he felt was right yet making enemies all the same. That is when the mummies attack and Antonio, completely naked, throws down with an assault rifle and very large knife.
This is one of the stranger comics I’ve read in quite some time. Joshua Williamson and Riley Rossmo have crafted a story that focuses on a woman having an understandable identity crisis, and despite the incoming horror aspects, the issue stays with the identity crisis notion even as Val journeys to Antonio’s house and is escorted to his bed. And what Antonio says once Val arrives—a conversation that happens as mummies approach in the darkness—reinforces Val’s own thoughts and feelings. These two damaged characters are almost reflections of each other: Antonio hits a bump in the road and reinvents himself; Val hits the same kind of bump but knuckles down and stays the same. Antonio represents the opportunity for Val to do something other than she normally would. I get the sense that the horror elements could be removed entirely and the comic would still be a dark character examination.
Deathbed #1 is horror, though, and horror often requires a certain mood. The art is detailed and heavily shaded. Williamson and Rossmo, along with Ivan Plascencia’s colors, have created a comic book that hangs beneath a dark cloud. With the exception of Antonio the human characters appear quite ordinary. Antonio, especially once he’s out of bed, is rather larger than life, and it does set him apart from every character seen to that point.
Speaking of Antonio—I’m not sure what to think about naked Antonio. I can see legitimate reasons for the choice: to make him appear vulnerable in the face of the threat while making his triumph all the more impressive because of that vulnerability. But the repeated portrayal of him full frontal naked during the battle feels like little more than unnecessary shock value. Either way, it is a distraction. I should probably not get caught up thinking about the impressive portrayal of Antonio’s member during a fight scene.
It occurs to me that this is probably the first comic review where I’ve found myself commenting on a major character’s genitalia. Honestly, though, that’s the worst part of this issue. Deathbed #1 has atmosphere, it has characterization, and it has action. It eases the reader in before going full-bore horror on them which makes it a more successful first issue. And the comic on its own is quite enjoyable with or without Antonio’s little Tony.
Verdict: 3.5 out of 5 floppy manhoods
Theron Couch is a collection of 1000 monkeys on 1000 typewriters trying to produce Hamlet. From time to time he accidentally types comic book reviews. Theron’s first novel, The Loyalty of Pawns, is available on Amazon and he’s published assorted short stories. Theron maintains a blog with additional comic and book reviews as well as posts on his personal struggle with mental health.