By Zack Quaintance — Dead Kings #1 sees writer Steve Orlando telling another angry retribution tale, one heavy with grit and swagger in which we get interactions like this one: Bartender: I don’t know that name… Anti-Hero: I’ve punched a lot of faces to get here. I think you do. That’s all very telling about the type of world Dead Kings #1 inhabits.
Plot-wise, this story takes place 30 years after a techno-magic war in a place that must have once been Russia but is now called Thrice-Nine, which the book’s preview text describes as a dirty folklore world that limps along, degenerating into a place filled with paranoid and poison. Indeed, we definitely get all of that. Hell, most (if not every) interaction here is brimming with both of them.
Really though, Orlando writing an angry revenge story that promises violence to come is nothing new. Not after his most recent creator-owned book, Crude, or his breakout DC hit, Midnighter. What I find interesting here is the cause of the anger. In Midnighter, the anger was inherent to the titular character, an effect of his status as an embodied weapon. In Crude, the anger came from repression of self, both from one’s family and from one’s society. It’s only one issue so far for Dead Kings, but my early sense is that the anger and violence in this story will be driven by the failure of nation states, by the peasants who have been abused and marginalized by the namesake Dead Kings.
There are, to be sure, also some familiar themes from Orlando’s past work in play too, themes very much evocative of the recently-concluded Crude, specifically that one of the main characters is out to save a lost twin brother persecuted for loving another man. There aren’t really diminishing returns though. Dead Kings is pretty heavily steeped in both the gritty and the fantastical. I mean, this is a story that on one of its first pages has a kaiju-sized steam-powered bear mech.
Matthew Dow Smith and Lauren Affe are a well-suited art team for this story, too, with their work lending the proceedings a punk aesthetic through every frustrated or pained face (and there are a lot of them). The visuals here are equally as capable of action, and based on some of the outsized splash pages at the start, my sense is that the best is definitely yet to come from all involved.
Overall: A gritty first chapter that seems to promise outsized adventure and fantastical warfare to come. There’s a lot to be said about the way states fail their peoples from generation to generation, and this might be the book we need right now to say it. 8.0/10
Dead Kings #1
Writer: Steve Orlando
Artist: Matthew Dow Smith
Colorist: Lauren Affe
Letterer: Thomas Mauer
Publisher: AfterShock Comics
For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.
Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.