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365 Reasons to Love Comics #305

It’s the Day of the Dead! Who better to talk about than the deadest comic book character of them all? (Urk-chive!)

11/1/07

305. Deadman

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No, I didn’t mean Uncle Ben. And it’s not like I could’ve meant Bucky or Jason Todd. Nope, I meant the one and not only Deadman, man of deadness!

It took brilliant creators Arnold Drake and Carmine Infantino to conjure up the character of Deadman within the pages of Strange Adventures #205, a good 40 years ago. Deadman was once Boston Brand, a death-defying trapeze artist who ceased defying death when a mysterious man named “The Hook” murdered him. He didn’t quite die enough, however, and came back as a ghost, enabled by Hindu goddess Rama Kushna to float amongst the living and possess them, if need be, in order to find justice. Basically, it’s an undead take on the Fugitive.

The series really hit its peak, however, when creators Jack Miller and Neal Adams came on board. Adams’s style exploded on these pages; he used his excellent sense of visual design in terms of perspective and panel layout to bring a great sense of excitement to the book. It was, in fact, the work that brought Adams to the attention of the industry and propelled him onto bigger things. Right out of the starting gate, though, he was producing incredible work and stunning visual effects. There’s a hardcover out there collecting the run; it’s a hefty tome for a hefty price, but you can snag it on Amazon.

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When Deadman’s run in Strange Adventures was up, he wandered around the DC Universe for a while. The King himself, Jack Kirby, must have taken a liking to Boston Brand, however, as the Deceased Daredevil (I just made that up, but I think it works for a fun appellation) popped up in Forever People. Can’t wait for the Omnibi to catch up to that story!

Deadman’s carried his own feature several times, be it in mini-series, ongoings, graphic novels, or recurring strips in Action Comics Weekly. Lots of great creators, such as Mike Baron, Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, and gruesome gothic great Kelley Jones have crafted his stories. So why can’t Deadman seem to hold his own title?

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Okay, okay, Deadman is solidly B-List, or maybe even C-List, yes. One may also argue that his status as a relatively invisible and incorporeal spectre may have something to do with it, too. The concept, however, is quite good– “acrobat-turned-phantom wanders around, seeking to balance the scales of Good and Evil.” A writer could tackle any genre with Deadman, as Brand steps into new bodies and new situations. I’ll revise what I said earlier– it’s the Fugitive meets Quantum Leap! With ghosts! Awesome, right?

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Apparently not. Deadman’s series under writer Steve Vance only lasted nine issues, and the concept has since been retooled for Vertigo, shoving Boston Brand out of the picture altogether. That book was just cancelled as well. C’mon, DC! Deadman’s useful for more than the occasional spooky or supernatural tale. He’s got a cool premise with nigh-infinite potential, and a nifty design (trust me, giant collars are coming back). Use him wisely! (Dead) Man cannot live on Batman guest appearances alone. Dead men can tell tales, dangit! Let Deadman live– up to his potential, that is! (No, my puns shall never die!)

For more on Boston Brand, try the ‘pedias: Toono and Wiki. And to read one of the finest Deadman stories ever, a Christmas tale by Alan Brennert and Dick Giordano, you have only to visit Scans Daily.

23 Comments

Nice one.

I really liked the Steve Vance Deadman series.

I really like pretty much EVERY Deadman series, to be honest. Except Deadman team-up or whatever that was called.

They should give Deadman an annual series, release it every Halloween.

Might it be possible that Deadman, as a character, works better in smaller doses? It doesn’t mean that he’s bad, just that he fits in a specific slot.

Like Fonzie. He was totally awesome until he became the main character of the show.

Actually, Kirby only put a guest apearance by Deadman in The Forever People at the specific instructions of Carmine Infantino, who presumably wanted to keep his co-creation in the public eye while the company figured out what they wanted to do with it. Kirby hadn’t even read an issue of the series, so he had his assistants Mark Evanier and Steve Sherman plot the story for him. According to Evanier, Kirby didn’t follow the plot they came up with but still gave them both a special credit on the first issue of the two-part story. Their plotting credit was accidentally left off the second part, so Kirby gave them an additional credit in the next issue even though they hadn’t done any work on that one.

I expect Evanier will repeat all this in his text piece for that volume of the Omnibus, so you’ll see I’m right… ;-)

In ‘Tales to Astonish’ Ronin Ro says that using Deadman in Forever People was definitely not Kirby’s idea, but was pushed on him by Carmine Infantino, who “expected Jack to deliver a successful Marvel-style take on Deadman and make it a hit.” He said that Kirby was less than impressed, feeling that “this death-obsessed hero didn’t belong with his life-affirming hippies.”
When the decision was was forced on him he did his best with it, but probably knew at that point that the writing was on the wall for the Fourth World (and that it wasn’t coming from a flaming hand).
Those two Forever People issues always felt really odd to me. I loved the Neal Adams Deadman, and am obviously a big Kirby fan, but putting the two together just really didn’t work for me.

Why did I take so long to compose that comment?
Curses to your keyboarding speed, RAB.

How did they get by with this character under the early CCA? Weren’t “walking dead” specifically forbidden?

That’s a good question, I never thought of that.

Maybe they drew a line between zombies and ghosts?
Walking dead bad, floating dead OK?

The recent vertigo series sucked. I mean, really, it blew chunks. And it had NPTHING to do with Deadman, not even the concept, really.

It was Deadman in name only, kind of like Hallie Barrie (sp?) was Catwoman in name only.

Agreed that the Vertigo series blew chunks. 4 issues of terrible quantum-physics wank. The parts that WEREN’T terrible quantum physics wankery were totally incomprehensible.

I have an extremely high tolerance for terrible quantum physics wank, but this exceeded even VOYAGER.

Oh, sure. I click on the “Read more” link to find out about Jean Grey, and what do I get? Deadman.

RAB and fourthworlder– you have bested me with your knowledge of Kirbydom. I didn’t know that. I bow to you, good sirs!

C’mon, DC! Deadman’s useful for more than the occasional spooky or supernatural tale. He’s got a cool premise with nigh-infinite potential, and a nifty design (trust me, giant collars are coming back).

Hell yeah! Just ask Iron Fist!

Maybe they drew a line between zombies and ghosts?
Walking dead bad, floating dead OK?

Basically that’s it. Zombies were verboten under the code, but ghosts could be used and were frequently used in the comics code bowlderized, er, approved horror comics DC put out (indeed they put out one in the ’70s callled “Ghosts”)

Kirby’s version of Deadman left a plot thread dangling with him. Deadman was given a ‘body’ to host. It was some form of pseudolife created by the Forever People, but if I remember his Forever People appearance correctly, he still has the body at the end of it. I don’t know if they ever resolved that, or if it was quietly ignored like Alec Holland being cured in Swamp Thing…

Bob Haney had Deadman possessing Bruce Wayne’s brother for a while in World’s Finest. What can I say, it’s the Haneyverse…

Some of my favourite run of Deadman stories were the ones by Len Wein and JL Garcia-Lopez in Adventure Comics in the 1970s. Great stuff.

I think a Deadman series like the Human Target would be great. Have him plop down in a human for awhile, and experience America or life from that persons perspective. It could have interesting social commentary without feeling forced. I’ll write it if no one else is interested in the job!

A couple of issues of the Steve Vance-penned Deadman series had some absolutely beautiful artwork pencilled by Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, with inks by Joe Rubinstein. I’ve never been a big Deadman fan, but I bought those two issues for the art, and I ended up enjoying the story, as well. One of these days I should hunt down the rest of the series.

I think that DC should take all of its supernatural characters (Deadman, Dr. Fate, Zatanna, Dr. 13, Phantom Stranger, etc.) and put them all in a quarterly supersized anthology book. Have them rotate the main feature and have old-school covers and every now and then have the whole issue be one story that crosses into all the features. That would be fun.

Same thing with their war comics, crime comics, western comics, etc. I honestly think that’s the best way to keep these properties alive in this day and age. Keep the quality high and I’d be on board.

I’d love to see that anthology book– I think it’d work much better than the shoehorn-the-mystics-into-superheroic-teamwork of Shadowpact. It seems like we’ve taken baby steps toward that model, with the Spectre/ Dr. 13 split-book miniseries now followed by a Dr. Fate/ Eclipso split-book miniseries.

After the end of his own title, Deadman was a recurring guest star in the Phantom Stranger’s book for a while.

Well, it turns out DC ALSO gave us an extra bit of Deadman on Halloween. Coincidence?

I loved the foul mouthed dickhead characterisation that Mark Millar gave Deadman in his run on Swamp Thing. Unfortunately (as far as I know) no-one’s written him like that before or since

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