By Zack Quaintance — Dead Kings #2 is one of those sophomore issues that feels liberated from obligatory debut tacks—setting a hook, doing introductory worldbuilding, landing the obligatory final page cliffhanger (although we do get another one of those here). With that all previously accomplished, this issue instead move the plot forward at a lively pace. What soon becomes clear, then, is that what writer Steve Orlando and artist Matthew Dow Smith have created an epic quest comic, one with a pair of disparate protagonists venturing across dystopian Russia after a shared objective for vastly different reasons.
Cool. Count me in for that general concept. Where this comic hooks me further is with the way it judiciously doles out insights into each character’s past, showing rather than telling us their motivations. We see glimpses of Sasha’s guilt over how he treated his brother. We see that brother interned in a hellish prison camp (in a lightning quick and disturbing interlude), and as such, when we return to the main questing, things feel all the more meaningful. The same is true of the glimpses into Maria’s experience in the war that molded this dystopian world, we see how she has just as much reason to hate the failed systems and nation states that manipulated her during the fighting (as I wrote in my review of Dead Kings #1, the anger in this book seems most strongly directed at the failures of systems, societies, nation states).
That’s all pretty well done, and, to my mind, is another box this book can check as it moves closer to being able to jump entirely into a plot that pushes forward, rather than continuing to alternate past scenes. Another primary strength of this comic is the world that has been built. The ambience and visual touches these creators have constructed is evocative of vintage Final Fantasy, that one Werner Herzog documentary about Siberia Happy People, and also of the anger toward corrupt officials who’ve been abused the trust the public has placed in them. So yeah, this book is imaginative and timely.
I should note I found the back half of this comic to be far stronger than the first half, an effect of the story still having work to do to orient readers within its world and to introduce us to our characters. That’s why I’m so bullish on this book moving forward—once the introductions are over, the fun really starts, letting both Orlando and Dow Smith show off their abilities as swaggering action-based storytellers. Also, I’m still waiting with crossed fingers to see an epic large-scale mech battle, the mech battle were promised, the mech battle we deserve.
Overall: Dead Kings #2 continues to build this story and this world, evoking things like Final Fantasy video games and documentaries about Siberia in the process. The real strength and potential of Dead Kings really shows through in the glimpses of the action storytelling and larger battles the story seems destined to include. Jump on now and get ready. 8.0/10
Dead Kings #2
Writer: Steve Orlando
Artist: Matthew Dow Smith
Colorist: Lauren Affe
Letterer: Thomas Mauer
Publisher: AfterShock Comics
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Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase. He also writes comics and is currently working hard to complete his first.