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Today we’re back to Deathblow, which I found to be wildly uneven on our last go-round. Now, Tim Sale has taken control of the artwork with Brandon Choi still scripting. Is the change enough to flip my opinion on the book?
Before we begin, a quick mea culpa: Lynch is still with IO in this arc, so this should’ve been read before Gen13. Oops! In fact, it might occur entirely between Gen13 #1 and #3 given the time that elapses and based on Lynch departing #9 directly for Gen13 #3. This arc also happens after Stormwatch #9, which means the arrival of the time traveller in Gen13 #1/2 misses Stormwatch #9 by at least a week.
Deathblow is different than all of the other WildStorm books. It’s not just the desaturated colors or the religious overtones, but the small cast combined with sense that the plot is paramount. It feels as though the story might keep heaving onward even if Deathblow decided not to show up. At points in this arc it feels like he’s an anchor dragging behind the good versus evil aspects of the story, until the final pages of issue #9 manage to reel him in.
All of the plot points teased in issues #1-4 collapse into a single story here – Deathblow’s faith and his cancer, Travis’s untrustworthiness, the miracle boy in Philadelphia, the Black Angel, the Order of the Cross, and more. They felt like a lot of random information, but it turns out they’re all part of the same plot.
There’s an inherent tension between the scenes with Deathblow, terse and rippling with muscle, and the supernatural plot, which could be ripped straight from… well, Supernatural, to use a modern example. The sense that Deathblow himself isn’t of this paranormal world is tangible, even as we learn those closest to him have already been inducted.
Add to that the constant suspense of how Deathblow’s Gen-Active powers will present themselves (aside from being impervious to gun shots and stab wounds, that is), and this mystery has suddenly become almost as much as a page-turner as Stormwatch.
This leads me to marvel at the incredible powers of Brandon Choi, perhaps for the 15th day in a row. This man was plotting the entire WildStorm Universe, with each book wildly different in style than the last. Choi really settles in to the terse vibe of Deathblow here. It feels like it has its own voice moreso than the initial run.
Now the permanent artist (save for covers), Tim Sale imbues the book the sort of stark, crime noir look it’s needed all along. He deploys Lee’s style of fine detail only when warranted. While you’ll immediately be yearning for Jim Lee’s over-the-top version of Deathblow himself just because it looked so damned good, everything else about the book is a better fit for the story. Seen through a noir lens, it all makes more sense.
New with issue #6, colorist Linda Medley keeps the desaturated color palette but loses the sickly photo-negative greenish cast. This could be hindsight talking, but digital colors pull attention away from Tim Sale’s stately art. What I wouldn’t give to see a modern colorist like Matt Hollingsworth apply a vintage palette and lack of gradients to these issues. They deserve even plainer colors and starker contrast.
By the end of the arc, all of our characters (including a nun cop, the angel of death, and Director Lynch!) converge on a convent outside of Philadelphia for a bloody battle that entirely alters the course of Deathblow’s life – and definitely his comic book!
I’m not sure if I should recommend this book to you or not! Choi and Sale have made a remarkable turnaround with this arc, but I won’t be sure it was worth the ride until we see how it begins to be resolved.
Need the issues? Deathblow #5-9 (and on through #12) were collected in a 1999 TPB titled “Sinners and Saints.” DC issued a revised, expanded, and re-ordered HC and TPB of #0-12 that both are still readily available. For single issues try eBay (#5-9) or Amazon (#5, 6, 7, 8, 9) – and note that Amazon offers these issues digitally(!) through Comixology.
Here’s the schedule for the rest of this month’s WildStorm re-read – tomorrow we’re back to Stormwatch (already!) with #11-13.