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Death Sentence: Liberty #1 (Review)

Death Sentence: Liberty #1
Writer: Monty Nero
November 2018

Death Sentence: Liberty is an independent comic written by Monty Nero.

It is a superhero title with a new-ish premise. Humans are prone to infection by a sexually-transmitted virus called “Super-G”. The virus is fatal, but for a time gives its victims “extranormal abilities.” These people naturally adopt superhero names (the characters do more or less escape the usual costume fetish typical of the genre).

But this is a bland description of a comic, which, at least at the beginning, follows the kaleidoscopic design ethic of British writer Grant Morrison. We meet Cosmo, a well-endowed man with some sort of psychic powers. Cosmo has science-experiment sex, accompanied by Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries, with a woman in what can only be described as an exercise in lurid nerd comedy. As Cosmo climaxes, he yells out “Thuunnddercats!” and howls. More Morrison-type dialogue follows from observers in a booth overlooking the action:

Female supervisor: “A mating couple! This is perfect!”
Scientist: “The magnitron’s charged-“
Female supervisor: “Good. Start the program.”

It is funny and bizarre. Some real skill manifests in the delivery of these scenes.

Cosmo is then put to task on identifying someone suspicious. This is someone we as readers know is an American spy, Jeb Mulgrew, a man who walks a lonely path along a desolate beach, missing his family. This undercover agent pretending to be “Phil Vaughan, systems analyst” and is from the FBI, trying to discover what the British are up to in respect of the Super-G virus.

We then abruptly switch from this very British melange, of quiet Graham Greene espionage and surrealist superhero sex, to a very familiar landscape typical of American superheroics. The work of artist (and more recently writer) Bryan Hitch was the genesis of what is called “wide screen” superhero action, first seen in the explosive and cinematic violence of Wildstorm Comics’ The Authority in 1998. Mr Nero deploys wide screen action in this second segment of the book.

As is de rigeur of wide screen superhero stories, we are landed without introduction into a superhero battle. Verity Fette, called Art Girl, creates illusions and manipulates radiation. She and another character called Plant, who controls vegetation and appears to be partly composed of plant matter, together fight tanks, aircraft, and infantry.

There is all of the bluster and posing that we expect of American superheroes. Some of the dialogue and internal dialogue is lifted out of the grit of Frank Miller’s playbook:

“Bullets fill the air… raining down… on the old… and the young… and the innocent alike…. with every shot someone dies… No more. No more. Something from a horror film snarls and rushes in…”

Interspersed with these dialogue boxes are the sounds of screams and gunshots.

And then we get text drawing inspiration from the drawling crude theatrics of British writer Warren Ellis: “suckadeaddonkeysdick” yells Plant in defiance.

Somewhere along the way the American situation room, located within the FBI’s headquarters, learns that Art Girl is pregnant and that her pregnancy is related to a British cure for the virus. At the conclusion we see Art Girl, stumbling amongst body parts, surrounded and mobbed by soldiers, and apparently cutting loose with her powers.

The story overall starts extremely well, and then loses focus with increasing speed as the issue progresses. By way of example, for no real reason other than a rushed introduction located during the superhero battle and three pages before the last panel climax, we briefly switch back to England. Mr Nero’s interruption to the flow of the action is used to introduce a British character called Weasel, who is so addicted to drugs that he refuses a very alluring threesome in a waterfall. This single page was not necessary. The character and his abuse problems could have been launched with more screen time, or just left alone to a second issue. It would have been better to have learned of Mulgrew’s fate after his apparently successful hack of the British.

Still, overall, this is a fun read. Some more sardonic or Dadaist humour scattered towards the rear of the title and Death Sentence: Liberty would be something we would expect to see as a Young Animal imprint. Mr Nero has planted a psychedelic seed, and the sapling shows much promise. This first issue is available on Kickstarter and a second issue is forthcoming and seeking backers.