reflection

A deeply personal look at living in small-town America, Deadbox #1 is a fascinating and painfully relevant comic that plays its true plot close to the chest.
Writing/Plot
Pencils/Inks
Colors
Letters

Review: DEADBOX #1 – An Incisive Slice of Americana

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From the brilliant Mark Russell (Snagglepuss: Exit Stage Left; The Flintstones) and artist Benjamin Tiesma comes a deeply incisive and mysterious first issue in Deadbox #1. Along with colorist Vladimir Popov and letters from Andworld Design, this comic takes what seems like a ridiculous premise and ties it into a dark and depressingly relevant examination of small-town America. With a stellar script and expressive visuals, this is one of the most promising first issues of the year.

“Welcome to the town of Lost Turkey, where the main source of entertainment is a cursed DVD machine that seems to know more about the fate of its citizens than they do.”

Writing & Plot

Writer Mark Russell takes the first issue of Deadbox to let readers know where he and this story are coming from. This comic’s unusual premise is put on the backburner for now in favor of a sort of sociological dissection. Russell states that his main motivation for writing this comic is to detail what living in a small, close-minded town and desperately needing to escape is like. Deadbox is a deeply political comic book, make no mistake. However instead of beating readers over the head with jargon, it instead begs perspective. This comic definitely takes a stance, but in the form of scathing truth over all else. Russell’s evocative narration reads like the voice of an imposing harbinger of societal damnation. His poetic and cutting words sting with the pain of uncomfortable relevance. It’s easy to forget that there’s a supernatural horror comic underneath all of this.

Russell keeps the true main plot of the comic pretty close to the chest. There are distinct moments where there’s a sudden tonal shift due to something on the page, but this issue never chases the thread. The first hint we get is in this issue’s internal parallel story in the form of a movie. I can’t go into anymore detail, but I’ll just say Russell is making the reader do their own headwork here. Luckily, that’s the exact kind of script I like. The way Russell intertwines political observation, unnatural suspense, and personal storytelling is outstanding.  I won’t get into spoilers, but this silly-sounding “evil Redbox” idea is so well presented here that I am hooked on whatever is next.

Art Direction

Deadbox #1’s shifting tones and wildly different setting are brought to life by artist Benjamin Tiesma. His pencils craft an accurate snapshot of insular small-town America. The exact kind of small town you may stop to get gas in on a road trip, then get the hell out of as fast as possible. Tiesma draws with immense detail here, and continues to do so when the setting drastically changes. Again I can’t get into spoilers, but the in-story film has near-opposite aesthetic to Lost Turkey. Tiesma draws this new setting as if it were where the main story was actually taking place.

His characterization is fantastic as well. Each person looks wholly unique, and their emotion is played out in subtleties across their faces. This is especially true of our protagonist. The complex combination of desperation to leave Lost Turkey and worry for the reason she has to stay is effectively displayed in how she’s drawn.

Vladimir Popov’s colors are just as dynamic as the pencils. They present Lost Turkey in the drab hues of rust and decay, lit by flickering fluorescent lights and tube televisions. Then the colors are juxtaposed with the setting in the film (again, no spoilers). Popov displays lighting effects remarkably well. Every surface in a setting directly reflects the light (or lack thereof) and sets the tone for an entire sequence. Andworld Design’s lettering subdued but effectively varied. They use an almost classic-styled font with just the right font and italic shifts to get the tone right. SFX lettering is minimal, but also kind of effectively subdues. This comic is gifted with effective and atmospheric visuals on all fronts.

Verdict

Deadbox #1 is a powerful and delightfully intriguing opening issue to this supernatural comic story. Mark Russell crafts a personal script with cutting societal insight and a clever supernatural concept that he still keeps close to the chest. Benjamin Tiesma and Vladimir Popov create an atmospheric and detailed portrait of small-town America that changes on a dime to vastly different settings. This is one of the most intriguing first issues of 2021. Be sure to grab a copy when it hits shelves on 9-8!

 

Justin Munday
Reader and hoarder of comics. Quietly sipping coffee, reading, and watching sci-fi in Knoxville, TN.

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