I’ll go ahead and preface this review with the clarification that I am not generally a fan of standard superhero comics. As readers familiar with this site would expect, I’ve always tended towards horror comics. However, I also enjoy reading anything that bears similarities to cult film, exploitation, and grindhouse cinema. So when I was asked to check out the first volume of Death Sentence, I jumped at the opportunity. The very look of the covers screams a sort of punk-exploitation feel. But don’t let the bright cover for this compiled addition of the series fool you, the content matter is dark, mature, and surprisingly philosophical.
Verity is an artist, Weasel a musician, and Monty a hugely popular comedian turned pop icon. None of the three are entirely happy with their existence, and some more miserable than others, but they are then all inflicted with the G+ virus, a sexually transmitted disease like none seen before. The virus is not only deadly for the infected, but it gives them some impressive powers during their remaining life that prove to be fatal to anyone that may get on their bad side.
The best summary of that plot is in big, bold, eye-catching text on the back of this release: “Sex, superpowers, and six months to live!“. However, there is certainly more depth to the story than that sentence would indicate. Instead of taking an immature approach to the ‘what would you do if you had superpowers?’ question, Monty Nero presents a story in which the focal characters, anti-heroes at best and downright scoundrels at worst, are faced with their own brief mortality at the same time as they are given more power than any human should ever have. Any normal person placed in that situation would almost certainly not use them only for entirely selfless saint-like good, because power corrupts. But you give those powers to several people who are fairly unlikeable before and the potential for corruption greatly increases. Of the three main characters in Death Sentence, really the only one that exhibits a shred of decency from the beginning is Verity. In Weasel and Monty we instead see selfish immaturity and carnal desire at its worst.
All of that being said, the resulting story is original, entertaining, and pretty damn brilliant. It’s a hell of a trip. Nero’s story is backed up well by Mike Dowling’s art, creating a read that is lighthearted and funny one minute, and dark and bloody the next. At times there are some variations and inconsistencies within the artwork that can make certain frames a bit hard to follow, but at other times the slight variations to the characters themselves just exaggerate their internal changes. So it’s a minor critique that doesn’t really detract from the overall experience.
There’s an introduction included in this release from the author that is well worth the read (it is only one page after all, so definitely take the two minutes to read it). In that intro, Monty Nero discusses the fact that Death Sentence resulted from frustration and the desire to create a comic that was truly personal, something that was entirely his and not governed by the wishes of a publisher. It’s refreshing in any medium when an artist decides to go forward with their vision in its uncensored and full form, and damn the consequences. In that Nero, with the help of Dowling, created something truly unique. Then, with a bit of beautiful irony, the focal characters of his opus are given the ability to disregard consequences to the ultimate extreme, and use it for destruction more often than not.
For anyone who enjoys comics, Death Sentence isn’t one you want to miss. It’s inventive take on superpowers allows it to stand out from standard superhero comics, and also to separate itself from the typical anti-heroes like The Punisher and Constantine. If you’re tired of those stories and want something original, with a good deal of thought and depth, this is it. Even if you don’t enjoy superhero comics at all, as I’ve already pointed out I don’t, it’s still one hell of a great story. So just do yourself a favor and read it.