Change of Pace: Dead Romeo

Change of Pace: Dead Romeo

Dead Romeo #1

With the big companies putting out as many comics as they can and even the smaller companies attacking retail with a raft of titles, it seems like it gets harder and harder to spot the titles in the margins. That is, books released by companies that may not benefit from a big crossover push, books that may just exist on their own. So, then, let’s start taking a look at some of these titles that occasionally get missed among the din. Call it a Change of Pace.

The first book I want to stop and take a look at is a mini-series that’s already in progress. Obviously, part of the reason that it interests me is that I’ve previously worked with its writer, Jesse Blaze Snider. See, I’ve been the Associate Editor for Fangoria Comics/The Scream Factory/Fangoria Graphix, and the Jesse penned the Strangeland: Seven Sins mini-series there. Based on the film from Jesse’s father, Dee, the Strangeland comic showed me that Jesse would have the chops to take from “Son of” to “Known Quantity” in the industry. From that point, Jesse went on to do work at Marvel, notably on Marvel Comics Presents. And while the end of Seven Sins will be digitally available soon, Jesse made a foray back into horror at DC Comics.

That book, Dead Romeo, is a horror title that manages to hit common ground while still feeling new. It’s rare that we see DC titles these days that aren’t immediately connected to the larger tissue. Witness, for example, the full-court-press of new and revamped Batman books. Check out the new JLA mini or the forthcoming second title. If you go from the top of the line on down, very few books don’t exist in support of another franchise or family. That’s one reason that Dead Romeo is a bit of an anomaly.

Dead Romeo #4

Another? It’s a fairly straight-forward horror title. Clearly, DC’s had truck with horror over time, and two of the imprints of DC in general, Vertigo and Wildstorm, tend to do much more horror these days that the mainstream DCU. So, it’s interesting that Romeo falls under the regular DC banner. A couple of lines of dialogue seem to hint that it may take place in the DCU, but we can’t be 100% certain as readers.

In a few ways, Romeo is an odd duck. A horror title under the mainstream super-hero heavy banner, written by a guy that a lot of people may know from either MTV (Jesse finished 2nd on Rock the Cradle) or his family associations or his previous comics work. The capable art is delivered by Ryan Benjamin, a 38-year-old veteran of the business; he’s banked work for Wildstorm (Grifter/Midnighter), Image (Phantom Guard) and many others, while also holding the distinction of having been the model for Tim Bradstreet’s Blade covers.

So, apart from the interesting pedigree, what’s Dead Romeo have going for it? Well, it’s pretty entertaining.

The overall story here seems to blend aspects of The Crow, rock royalty homage, and, of course, [i]Romeo and Juliet[/b]. The proceedings are narrated by Charon, the skeletal boatman of the river Styx, who tends bar and watching life’s passing supernatural parade. A lot of Charon’s commentary runs from tongue-in-cheek to smart-ass, a fact which nicely deflates some of the occasionally operatic goings-on. It’s Snider’s own slightly winking acknowledgement to the fact that “Hey, vampires sure are an emotional lot, aren’t they?”

Ostensibly, the main plot follows Jonathan Romeo, a rocker (from a band wherein everyone adopted the surname “Romeo”, like The Ramones) returned from the grave as a bloodsucker. He and a group of others have been released by Satan to kill some particular people in return for their parole. The big difference between Romeo and the rest of the gang is that he retains a) a romantic soul, pining over a lost love, and b) a rudimentary moral code. His fellow vamps are pretty atrocious, delighting in the slaughter. Romeo, on the other hand, takes to a female target and endangers himself to protect her.

Dead Romeo #5

Benjamin’s art is interesting here. Coming as he does from a particularly stylized super-hero tradition, he delivers art that’s familiar to the mainstream at its base. This is quite different from a lot of the vampire fare we’ve seen in recent years, particularly at IDW, where the Templesmith shadow looms large and imitators across the industry come off as sort of scratchy. So really, the art’s pretty clear and distinct among recent genre entries. He also tips the hat by making several of the vampires resemble existing rock stars (Angus Young, for example). That made me wonder if Snider’s script was having a bit of a laugh at the up-all-night/sleep-all-day parallels between rockers and vamps, or if maybe he was even having a bit of a chuckle based on people that, frankly, he may actually know.

The first four issues (issue #4 has only been out a few days) have a fast pace and thrive on the somewhat familiar feel of the proceedings. It’ll be interesting to see where things go in the next couple of issues. I also have to comment that it’s interesting that Dead Romeo is kind of alone in the DCU horror slot right now; it’s almost like it occupies the slot that was previously inhabited by Simon Dark. It would be nice to see DC get a fix on that particular strata in the main universe, seeing as Shadowpact has gone by the wayside and there are lots of permutations that could be explored (particularly now that the notion of the co-feature is around).

Overall, I think that horror fans should indeed give Dead Romeo a look. I’ve seen a couple of reviews that theorize that Twilight fans would like it; honestly, I’m not so sure. Twilight fans are Twilight fans, not necessarily horror fans. If you like vampires in general, splatterpunk in particular (though, seeing as this is the DCU, there is less explicit splatter, but I imagine you’ll like the villain with the cage stuck on his head), then check out Dead Romeo. It’s a tiny slice of something different amid the mainstream DCU, and I’m glad to see that small things can still arrive on their own and not have to be dependent on another monolithic story-structure to exist.

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