I made one of the greatest errors in my comic reading lifetime, and that was reading this terrific comic after i had read Necropolis first, so i pretty much knew about the big twist going into this book. And what a twist it is too. Not only one of the best in 2000ad’s 36 year history, but in the comic book genre as a whole.
The story starts with two kids making a startling discovery. Yassa Povey and a friend come across a man whilst out hunting for food in the outbacks of the Cursed Earth. He is in a very bad state, his skin burnt to a crisp and death just one short breath away. But Yassa’s mother and father and people from their community take the man back to their home to see if they can have a remote chance of saving him.
Yassa lives in his tatooine-ish hut with his ‘mam’ and ‘pap’, and his uber intelligent dog. From his thoughts we learn about his fears and his nightmates. The fear of hearing the screams “like a saw scraping on glass” at night. These nightmares start as soon as the Dead Man is brought to their home, but is there a link between the two? The man is christened the ‘dead man’ by Yassa because of the state he found him in, and whisperings start afoot that he is bad news for their community especially by one of the supposed Christian resident. But Yassa’s mother who is deeply Christian herself, doesn’t relent. Pretty soon the Dead Man is conscious, but he has no recollection of who he is and where he came from. He is ‘interrogated’ by the villagers but he sounds like someone who isn’t from around here.
Thus begins a journey, with Yassa and his dog in tow, to get to the bottom of the Dead Man’s true identity.
I must say that although a short read at 92 pages, it was still a very enjoyable and gripping story by Wagner. When this story was first serialised in 2000ad, Wagner hid his name and took the moniker of Keef Ripley, so the readers wouldn’t get suspicious – and it worked. It was also very refreshing to see a black charactet in Yassa Povey, take centre stage.
The b&w artwork by John Ridgway is astoundingly beautiful. His work is reminiscent of Eddie Campbell’s outstanding work on the seminal From Hell. His line drawing helps to convey a sense of time and place, you can almosy feel the desperation and bleak existence of the small communities in this harsh environment. Not to mention the feeling of dread and forboding when we enter the Grunt Wood, where evil lurks. Or the burnt desolation of the small township of Crowley.
Reading it it reminded me of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road with the Dead Man, the boy and his dog on a journey through a bleak unforgiving landscape. Also John Hillcoat’s The Proposition with its bleak de- saturated feel and shots of the Australian outback (which could easily double up as the Cursed Earth on film). The supernatural angle especially toward the end when we come face to face with two fearful apparitions, reminded me of acid westerns or supernatural westerns such as Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter, with a character much like the comic, coming back from the dead. In fact, the dead man looks like Clint Eastwood, both with his squinted look and his speech. The only thing missing is a chewed cigar and you’d have the genuine legend himself! I feel this demonstrates the strength of John Ridgway’s art that it manages to evoke to me the reader, all these works of literature.
Toward the end we learn who the Dead Man is, but at a price. Its a really affecting moment in the comic because the revelation is so mindblowing but also at the same time, we are worried for the safety of our characters and one of them out of the three, has to pay a terrible price. Having read Necropolis and especially Tour of Duty: The Backlash TPB i know how it turns out, but even as a stand alone story its a really impressive story, and one i thoroughly enjoyed reading.