Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love #1
Written by Sarah Vaughn
Art by Lan Medina and Jose Villarrubia
Lettering by Janice Chiang
Published by DC Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Deadman is the kind of character that’s perfect for a gothic horror story. Writer Sarah Vaughn (Alex + Ada, Ruined) and artist Lan Medina (Punisher MAX, Fables) drop Boston Brand right into a haunting little tale that hearkens back to the hero’s earliest appearances.
This isn’t anything like Justice League Dark needing to save the world from some hellscape future or a demon that threatens reality itself. It’s a smaller scale story about the ghosts that haunt us and our homes and how sometimes the supernatural can reveal something really human about ourselves.
Berenice can see ghosts. That’s probably the power you want least when you move into a giant, old (haunted) mansion. And by extension, she can see Deadman as well. And while Berenice is seeing ghosts, Vaughn sets up a romantic conflict for her pretty quickly. There’s Berenice, her boyfriend Nathan, and Sam, non-binary antique shop owner that Berenice is friends with. (Props to Vaughn and the editorial team for having Berenice call out Deadman for not using Sam’s correct pronouns. Probably the first time a superhero has had to have that slightly uncomfortable exchange!) As the book progresses, the mystery of the house gets deeper and Berenice and Deadman become reluctant allies. Vaughn has expressed in interviews a preference for stories where Deadman investigates a single supernatural disturbance in the world and looks to help the people involved. This story fits right into that mold. Vaughn’s characters are believable even if the narration can be a little overwrought at times. There’s something to be said for cluing readers into a character’s every thought but a lot of Berenice’s are just questions that the narrative forces the reader to ask themselves anyway. So they end up feeling unnecessary.
Now this is a big book - coming in at over 40 pages and Vaughn makes artist Lan Medina work. With a small cast and fairly unknown locale, Medina does everything he can to make the backgrounds as intimately evocative of the themes of the title as possible. And the workmanship present in the background extends itself to the character designs. Medina is adept at not only giving each of them a unique look but making them memorable in some way as well. His design for Deadman is a mix of old and new, trading the Robin Hood boots and clean cut ‘D’ logo for a sleeker silhouette and the more roughly drawn design of his 60s iteration. The part of the art that I waver on is the coloring. Jose Villarrubia is, without a doubt, a very talented colorist. But his muted palette removes contrast from the equation on some pages, leading to big blocks of black to try to make up for it or an overall washed out look. And it’s a shame because the coloring actually obscures some of the lineart beneath (judging from the preview pages that were previously released.)
Gothic horror romance stories are few and far between in comic books - superhero takes on the genre, even less so. Vaughn’s script is competent and sets things up for the rest of the miniseries moving forward. Lan Medina’s art is really wonderful but hopefully, he and colorist Jose Villarrubia are able to strike a better balance between mood and contrast in the next couple of issues. Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love #1 looks like to might be the perfect companion for those spooky October nights but it has a little ways to go really hitting it’s stride.