By Zack Quaintance — For those of us who have been reading and enjoying Dead Kings, the promise of giant mech-based battling has been looming large since the start of the first issue, which dedicated its second and third pages to a full splash of mechs (one shaped like a bear, another wielding a laser sword) doing combat above a snowy pine forest in an isolated locale. A subsequent spread, however, seemed to show the very same locale with the giant battling technology now turned to ruins. This sort of juxtaposition could be considered Chekhov’s beat-up mech, in that storytellers don’t show the audience a bunch of mechs that are working...and then suddenly not working, if they don’t intend to have those mechs working again.
That’s all a bit long and rambling, but my point is that now in Dead Kings #4 we get to see a mech (albeit of a smaller variety) used in combat, after it first appeared operational in Dead Kings #3. The impact on the story is a good one. The early issues of Dead Kings have read like I cocked punch or pistol, pointed at the audience and about to spring forward. In this issue, the comic smacks you square in the face (perhaps fittingly, the first page is a character punching a wall).
It’s a great read start to finish. Orlando has established himself repeatedly as a lead purveyor of gritty comics among a rising new generation of writers, gritty comics in which one or more of the characters’ identities are usually putting them in a situation where they must get revenge on behalf of their loved ones or themselves (see also Crude, another recent favorite creator-owned book of mine), and Dead Kings is no different. The major change here is additive: the dystopian future setting.
This choice of setting has enabled writer Orlando as well as artist Matthew Dow Smith and colorist Lauren Affe to weave more imagination and wonder within the grittiness of the revenge plot, in which so far the villain could almost be considered the broad idea of failed nation states (as I wrote way back when in my review of Dead Kings #1). Also, if you’re not reading Orlando’s Electric Warriors, you’re missing out on an equally brutal yet even more imaginative focused story about the future of the DC Universe.
On individual merits, Dead Kings #4 is a taut comic book with many excellent visual moments rendered by the artistic team, including the mech and a secondary personal combat vehicle flying off into action, a vicious gunning down of a group of soldiers, and a slow-burning sequence that I won’t spoil here other than to say it culminates in a scary last-page twist.
Overall: The best issue of this series yet. If Dead Kings #1 - #3 were like a clenched fist behind a back, this chapter is a swing right to the face, so powerful is it with the amount of consequential plot it packs onto every page. 9.0/10
Dead Kings #4
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.