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Review time! with Dead Men: Decimation

Or; Why Dwight MacPherson deserves better artists!

I’m sure Dwight MacPherson wouldn’t say so, because he seems like a nice guy, but he works with some mediocre artists. On his non-pirate work, he’s found some good ones, but his pirate comics tend to read worse than they are because the art is not that great. So it is with his latest, Dead Men: Decimation, which is $14.95 and comes from Arcana. It’s drawn by “Zeke,” colored by “Chandran,” and lettered by Shawn DePasquale. I don’t have any problems with the lettering, though.

Although the art isn’t very good, MacPherson does share some of the blame. He ties this obliquely in with his previous pirate comic, Dead Men Tell No Tales (which I reviewed here), but it’s not exactly a sequel. More than that, while that book was trashy fun, MacPherson doesn’t quite nail the same vibe, although he’s certainly trying. He gives us a pirate book set in the present day, with the same prize as the previous comic: the Holy Grail. A man named Samuel Cahn receives a mysterious letter and a package containing what the letter claims is the Grail. His devotion to his work causes his girlfriend to dump him, but he can’t think about that too much because a strange man attacks him, and then he learns that someone broke into his office at the museum where he works. A security guard who works at the museum gives him the number of his ex-brother-in-law, who’s in “personal security.” He lies to his girlfriend about needing a vacation, and the three of them are off to Jerusalem, where the letter told him to go. Samuel’s girlfriend, Cynthia, soon figures out that he’s not really taking a vacation, and they also discover that Winston, their “bodyguard,” is actually a CIA agent. And of course there’s a secret society that wants to return the Grail to God, and Samuel has been chosen for that task. Meanwhile, Blackbeard the Zombie Pirate and his Zombie Crew want the Grail because it will give them unimaginable power. So there’s that.

It could be a fun story, and MacPherson clearly wants it to be, but whenever it threatens to become one, MacPherson stumbles with the details. First of all, we never learn who sent Cahn the letter, nor why he trusts the letter-writer even as the mysterious writer sends him deeper into trouble. Second of all, the whole scheme to return the Grail to God is fine, but why do they need to go through so much to do so? If God wants it back, it seems like he would be able to get it. The constant subterfuge is fine – it’s that kind of comic – but because there aren’t many characters, it’s not too hard to figure out what’s going to happen with each character. And there are some deficiencies with the actual writing which makes it difficult to follow occasionally. Early on, the mystery man who’s stalking Samuel appears to get killed. But later, there’s a second mystery man? Or is it the same guy and the dead guy was someone completely different? At the end of the first chapter, Arcana gives us the first page of the actual comic, completely out of place. That’s not MacPherson’s fault, but it is sloppy. When Samuel, Cynthia, and Winston fly to Jerusalem, their plane is attacked by a World War II fighter plane … which is never explained. Who attacked them? We don’t know. The room in which the final confrontation takes place is unexplained, too – it appears to be a chamber full of treasure, but it also looks like there are two dead horses in it, which is strange. And when someone is seemingly killed, they later “come back to life” and their memories are apparently gone … and nobody thinks this is weird, and we don’t even know how they know it. So, yeah – there are some problems in the writing.

MacPherson doesn’t really deserve the lion’s share of the blame, however. This could have been a fun, Indiana Jones-esque romp (Cahn even makes the comparison a few times) if Zeke’s art weren’t so ugly. His pencil work is not very good, his perspective is lousy, his facial expressions are vacuous, and his storytelling is muddled. The only character he has any fun with is Blackbeard, and even he’s not that well done. The Zombie Pirates can dissolve into mist, which is how they cover great distances quickly, but the first time they do it, it’s so unclear what’s going on that even when I read it a second time, with the full knowledge of what the art was supposed to show, I didn’t get it. When someone uses the Grail to revive the “dead” person, we almost don’t see it because of the way the panels are set up, and that’s a fairly important plot point. There’s a lot of that in this comic, and it’s very frustrating. It’s far more difficult to read this comic than it ought to be, and although MacPherson leaves some things out, Zeke doesn’t help him at all.

Dead Men Tell No Tales suffered a bit from a rotating batch of artists, but none of them were as bad as Zeke is. It’s annoying, because MacPherson has shown that he can write all kinds of books, from whimsical to bloody, and some of his comics have suffered a bit because of the art. This is not his best work by a long shot, but he does deserve better artists. I’ll still be on the lookout for his work in the future, but I think you can safely skip this. Too bad!

One Comment

I never understood the “dropped photographs” style of panelling. It misleads the eye. For example, in the last page you posted, since the first panel overlaps the bottom panel, my eye is drawn from the upper left to where the guy is screaming, but that can’t be right because he hasn’t even been cut yet. What’s wrong with regular old block panels I ask?

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