Let me begin by rambling just a bit. I promise it will work itself out. I’m often unsure how I feel about “mature” comics, or “18 +” or whatever the media company has agreed to label something to satisfy or pacify this group or that. That is not to say I believe that labels do not represent something positive when thinking about consuming; rather, I am always mystified by any ratings system because sometimes they are off the mark rather than dead on (in the case of Death Sentence, however, the depictions of sex, drugs, violence, and profanity matches the mature rating). However, as a “mature” citizen looking out for the youthful fresh minds of our world I can not be entirely hypocritical by not saying exposure to “mature” things is completely out of bounds—when I was a young lad in the ’80s (and an old lad now in the… is this the tens or teens; is that what we call it?) I sought out those things which were forbidden fruit. I can still remember the thrill of seeing R-rated movies (thank you video store clerks who didn’t care), or “Mature comics” ( seriously, Howard Chaykin and Grant Morrison got me in some deep trouble), or reading banned books such as Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho. Mainly it was curiosity; I wanted to know, beyond minor titillation or passive voyeurism, how the world of adults functioned. I felt that I could handle whatever they threw at me. Most of the time I could, and other times it scared the shit out of me and left me scratching my head, as largely these interests that the adults had remained a mystery, and in some ways it still is, and I suspect it will never leave me.
I mention all these introductory thoughts and memories, because that was what this first issue of Death Sentence had me thinking about: that is, what are the possibilities of this kind of “mature” story, and how is it for? Death Sentence has a major uphill challenge facing it with two of the three main characters introduced, but I think a positive for this first issue is the manner in which the trajectory of the story moves towards the question that when you’re facing mortality, regardless of the questionable ways in which you got there, what will you do with the time you have left? While I enjoy the idea that when you become infected with the “G-Plus virus” there seems to be some super-hero-ish side effects you develop, I would be more interested in a completely spiritual journey, or perhaps an exploration the real horrors of our sexual biological systems as in the bulk of filmmaker David Cronenberg’s work (The Fly as a metaphor for AIDS; Crash as the extremes of sexual inadequacy and depravity). Now arguably my spiritual journey is WAY more boring than what Montynero probably has planned in the long run, but I think that the writing and pacing is off to a good, enticing-enough start to bring people back for the next issue or even to read a collected trade at some point.
The artwork of Mike Dowling looks a bit like a rougher Sean Phillips with a splash of Paul Grist thrown in, so there is a balance of plausible emotion, a few interesting panel decisions, and a tad of cartoony style perspective when pulled back in some moments. I imagine that Dowling will play with the characters and the possibilities some more as the story unfolds and the plot gets a bit more desperate for the infected individuals introduced. A stand out moment comes in depicting a fall out of an apartment window for one of the main characters.
The real trick that Death Sentence will need to pay off for readers in the long run is getting us to care about spoiled people (e.g., Rock Stars, Celebrities). I would have thought it to be a more interesting choice to go solo with someone like Verity Fleet, the female part of this trio of the damned who has really hit bottom and may indeed have nothing to lose. But perhaps she is the centering of all this chaos. Hopefully, and I am more than willing to bet it happens, when all three eventually meet, she will stand up as the voice of reason among the insane decadence that has consumed the other lives in this introductory issue.