The Dead Hand #1
Written by Kyle Higgins
Art by Stephen Mooney and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Weaving together international geopolitics, decades-long conspiracies and a dash of superhero tropes, The Dead Hand brings a slow burn to its debut that’s enhanced by its sterling production values. While this first issue often brings up more questions about its central premise than it necessarily answers, the artwork and final twists will likely bring readers back for more.
In certain ways, The Dead Hand #1 feels like two different first issues slammed into one - on the one hand, we meet a U.S. operative named Carter Carlson, a black ops spy sneaking into Soviet territory with an ominous star stitched across his masked uniform. Taking a morally ambiguous spin on a Captain America-style idealist proves to be writer Kyle Higgins’ biggest hook with his narrative, as we’re constantly on guard for exactly what steps Carlson might take to fulfill his mission - in particular, when Carlson discovers a pair of Russian scientists abandoned in a secret facility, Higgins cranks up the intrigue nicely, as his omniscient narrator clearly knows something the characters (and their readers) don’t.
Yet Higgins also switches gears a bit, in a way that cuts into his narrative’s momentum a bit. For example, we see an extended flashback of Carlson’s past and how he came to be, but beyond him having a deep connection with superheroes — a meta nod to anybody else reading this - it’s hard to find an emotional hook to the character that might make us root for him. And Higgins’ bigger conceit - namely, seeing Carlson’s retirement as a sheriff in an isolated, backwater town - culminates in a nice payoff, but the buildup to get there feels a little long. There’s some fun trickery to the story as Higgins changes the settings on us, but the manipulation comes at the cost of what might have been some more important character work.
But ultimately, when you see Kyle Mooney and Jordie Bellaire’s pages, you’re likely not going to nitpick at the story construction. This is definitely the best work I’ve seen Mooney tune in yet, particularly when Bellaire sells the drama of the story with an evocative double-page credits spread. Mooney has a scratchiness to his rendering that actually increases in the idyllic future pages rather than the tense sequences during the Cold War - his costume designs for Carlson’s black ops past are probably the highlight of the book, giving readers a striking image to latch upon for this series. Admittedly, however, the second half of the book can’t help but sap some of Mooney’s momentum - he’s given very little action to deal with, and while he works hard to imbue the citizens of Mountain View with personality, the story kind of ends this first issue with a whisper rather than a bang.
Still, this series holds a lot of promise of political intrigue as well as superhero combat, and if the beginning of The Dead Hand is any indication, this should be a book to watch. Higgins’ story feels like a slow burn at this point, but he’s buoyed by some superb artistic partners with Mooney, Bellaire and letterer Clayton Cowles - that said, it’s also hard to place expectations on where this book is headed (or even its central premise) since it’s going so far out of its way to be mysterious. That can be a good thing or the kiss of death, depending on how future issues go, but as far as debuts go, The Dead Hand proves to be a solid opener for Higgins and company.