Sunday, July 14, 2024

Deadman’s Epically Satisfying Conclusion

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I can’t tell you how excited I was to drive down to my local comic book shop and pick up the final issue of Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love. The cover art alone has been giving me the shivers for the past two months. And then I read it. It’s going to be hard not to talk about spoilers, but I’ll try. Reeeeeally hard. It’s just so good, guys. Really. It’s amazing.

“Will Deadman escape the dark magic of the mansion? Will Berenice accept Nathan’s proposal? Will Sam reveal their true feelings for Berenice? Will the shocking nature of Adelia’s murder be revealed? Answers to all these questions and more—in the stunning finale to this epic gothic romance!” (source)

Why Pick This Up?

Um, because it’s freaking amazing. I know, I already said that. As with the other two issues, the artwork continues to be lovely and atmospheric, the horror menacing and creepy, and the writing breathtaking. The climax and dénouement weave together thematic strands from the rest of the series in a poignant and meaningful way. Both of the major themes hit home emotionally. I couldn’t be more happy with the way this series has given space to not one, but two queer protagonists and interwoven their narrative into a genre I’ve loved since childhood. The conclusion to this series satisfies in all the right ways, ties up the main plot and romantic subplot, and still leaves room for Deadman to have more Gothic Romance adventures that I sure a hell hope he does. I want more dammit!

What I Loved

Basically everything. I don’t want to veer into spoiler territory, but I have to mention how powerful the thematic arcs and resolution were. While the truth behind the shadow didn’t shock me, the depth of Nathan’s involvement in the entire situation did come as a pleasant and horrifying surprise. Pleasant in the sense that surprising me is difficult, not that the situation itself is pleasant. Getting me to drop my jaw means you’ve done something really well, and boy did I drop my jaw. Well done, Deadman.

The shadow as an embodiment of fear (I hope that’s not too big of a spoiler) works really, really well. Gothic horror as a genre is a narrative exploration of human anxieties, so enfolding that into the actual ‘monster’ is a nice twist. It’s also a accurate way to conceptualize fear: a shadow that haunts you and can lash out at others if not controlled. Fear can twist us into darkness and cause us to hurt other people that come into our circle.

But fear isn’t only a dark force, it’s also a cycle, which the comic depicts with stunning accuracy. The relationship between the house, Adelia, and the villain evocatively depict how fear perpetuates a negative feedback loop. The villain’s fear creates the shadow of fear that becomes embodied both in the house and as a tangible dark presence. Fear then haunts the villain, physically hurting them, which feeds their fear, which feeds the dark presence, and on an on it goes. Fear clings to someone like a shadow and when fed, creates a vicious cycle that can harm anyone that comes into it’s circle and is ultimately self-defeating and self-destructive. The comic manages to interweave this theme through both the visualization and writing in a way that’s both fitting to the gothic genre and relevant to life. I’m impressed.

I also love how the series tackles the common gothic romance theme of female sexuality in a completely different way than it’s classic form. Historically, gothic romance was a way for women to explore their sexuality, both the expression of it and their anxiety about it, as well as their potential anxiety about male sexuality. Rather than tackle it head on, Deadman comes at it from an angle. Berenice is not a sexually repressed, virginal woman coming to grips with her sexual identity or its expression. She’s already a fully realized and out bi/pan woman.

Instead, her story is one of self acceptance and finding someone who can see her and know her for who she is. Her ability to see ghosts has been a secret she’s kept all her life. In the first issue, we learn that confessing this truth ruined a previous relationship. Her current boyfriend Nathan doesn’t know the truth, nor does her good friend/love interest Sam. She fears rejection because of the truth of her identity. It’s about as queer coded a story as you can get, practically explicitly so in this issue.

“It feels good to say the truth out loud–and be believed”–Berenice

I mean, you can’t tell me that’s not queer experience made flesh. Deadman took a genre almost entirely devoted to straight female sexual awakening and made it about queer female acceptance. God damn if that ain’t glorious. That’s representation done right.

Which brings me to Sam and how much I love them as a character. Again, I hope this isn’t too much of a spoiler, but of course Sam would believe Berenice about her ability to see ghosts. It’s very much in line with their characterization overall as someone who trusts and believes in Berenice 100%. At the same time, you can see how believing something is true even if they don’t experience it themselves or even understand it flows naturally of their experience of being nonbinary. Sam themself would have had that desire for others to implicitly trust their own self perception and experience in the past. They’ve had to work through that process with others, so extending it to Berenice is only natural for them.

Sam, you’re such a nerd, and I love you.

Sam really is just the best. They’re so calm, so loving, so accepting. They’re the perfect match for Berenice; the health and depth of the connection these two characters practically jumps of the page. The artwork surrounding Sam and Berenice is lovely, peaceful, and steady. Also, Sam is such an antiques nerd. Of course they would think about destroying the furniture when Berenice and Deadman suggest burning the house down.

Deadman gets some great character moments as well, and really, all the characters do. They’re all written consistently and are captivating in their own right. Berenice is such a great choice as Deadman’s co-protagonist and I appreciate her story so much, which I touched on earlier. We finally get to see more about Nathan this issues, and it doesn’t disappoint. But back to Deadman. He really shines near the end when he’s interacting with Adelia. I appreciate how much he understands her and the freedom he gives her to experience her rage over what happened to her.

“I’m not going to tell you to control your power anymore, it was wrong of me. Your death should never have happened that way. You should have had a long and happy life. You’ve been caged long enough. You get to be angry.”–Deadman

It’s a message that many of us who have been hurt or traumatized want to hear and so rarely do: we’re allowed to be angry at those who hurt us. For Adelia, being angry is an integral part of her healing process and moving on. It’s another theme I appreciate a lot about this series, that caged or repressed trauma causes suffering. Moving on requires facing the past, being honest about how we feel, expressing that. Only then can we accept what was done and move on.

Deadman’s role in the comic is to facilitate Adelia’s healing, not fight her or fight her battles on her behalf. It’s another neat twist, but this time on the superhero comics genre itself. Deadman doesn’t punch the evil away, he lets go and stands aside for Adelia to fight for herself. It doesn’t make him any less of a hero, just a different kind. (Also, I totally ship Deadman x Adelia.)

“Sometimes you don’t need to fight. Sometimes you only need to let go.”–Deadman

I hope his trajectory as a facilitator of healing/therapist for the dead continues in any other Deadman comics they make. I love the twist on the genre, and I think Deadman has just the right unique personality to fill that role. It also opens up space to explore similar mental health and trauma trajectories. We’re seeing more and more of these concerns being tackled in modern comics, and I, for one, will take all of them thank you very much. Having a whole series/superhero devoted to exploring it would be even better.

Especially if we get more beautiful ghost artwork.

Finally, a note about pacing and artwork, both of which were excellent. Unlike the creeping thriller pace of the previous two issues, this issue is practically breakneck speed. It might feel abrupt to some, but again, for those familiar with gothic horror, it’s normal. Once the villain/secret reveal themselves, the story whips into a frenzy of action leading up to the final climactic moment. The artwork highlighted this well, especially with the increasing use of bright yellows and oranges. They’re a striking tonal shift from the muted earth and winter tones, but they foreshadow the final conflagration well.

The art surrounding Adelia and the shadow continues to highlight and juxtapose her ethereal sadness and beauty with the shadow’s terror well. As with the rest of the issues, I appreciate how well the lettering conveys the sound of the shadow’s voice. We get more distinctive lettering this issue with some spell-chanting, and it works equally well.

Some Nitpicks

I have very few nitpicks and they’re minor. The first is that the artwork this issue felt underdone at times. The linework in some panels seemed less precise, but it’s honestly such a small issue compared to how well done the rest of the artwork is. Like the soothing visual transition from the reds/oranges/yellows of the inferno to the greys/blues/paler yellows representing the safety of the forest. Or the insertion of Adelia’s ghostly blue figure (an excellent piece of art on it’s own with the evocative mixture of emotions on her face, the tears alone say so much) into the bright fiery colors of the inferno. Or the single, lonely frame of the broken bowl Sam fixed for Berenice that conveys so much.

Pictured: How to convey emotion without words.

Basically, the overall artwork is so compelling that I can’t even complain about the minor lack of polish in some instances for longer than two sentences. It’s nowhere even near the levels of Star Wars: Princess Leia. Everything else is just too good, including the cover art, which I adore this issue. It’s my favorite of all three.

My only other very tiny nitpick is a minor abrupt pacing transition early on. It kind of makes sense in context, but it was just jarring enough for me to notice. Otherwise, the pacing is excellent, as I noted above.

And that’s it. That all I can say negatively about this comic. It’s just that good.

Is It Worth Reading?




Wholeheartedly Approve

  • themes of healing from trauma and the cycle of fear
  • the story about queer female acceptance as a subversion of the gothic romance genre
  • Sam
  • all the other characters
  • cathartic and satisfying plot resolution

Eh, I Could Do Without It

  • very minor art inconsistencies
  • very minor abrupt pacing transition

Images Courtesy of DC Comics

Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love Credits

Writer: Sarah Vaughn

Illustrator: Lan Medina

Colorist: José Villarrubia

Cover: Stephanie Hans

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