Review: The Damned: Three Days Dead

…written by Cullen Bunn, art by Brian Hurtt, published by Oni Press.

I saw some promotional material for The Damned two years ago at Wizard World Chicago and thought it looked cool. This last year at WWC I picked up the trade and chatted with the two creators, Bunn and Hurtt. They were cool. Their book is cool.

The basic hook/setting for The Damned: Three Days Dead is a prohibition era gangland caper wherein the criminal underworld is dominated by demons. It’s Hellblazer meets The Untouchables according to one comics reviewer, and that seems pretty accurate. To make a decent go of it in today’s crowded market, an Indie Comic needs some kind of genre-fusion angle to promote, and you’ll see every kind of weird and gimmicky crossover imaginable. In the case of The Damned, while the hook may not be shockingly original–we’ve seen our share of underworld/Underworld stuff (though not so much during prohibition)–the book itself is very well done.

Cullen Bunn is a talented horror writer and storyteller, and Brian Hurtt, a true pro, obviously relished the historic backdrop and demonic overtones here. It’s a pleasure to experience the noir and detective beats fully realized on the comics page. Very nice with the pencil and ink work, the B&W shading with plenty of mood and shadow, and excellent use of the format for sequential narration and pacing (for those of us who care about that sort of thing). To sample the look and feel, click on the cover-art above for the Amazon preview.

Eddie is your anti-hero, the wiseguy gumshoe with plenty of moxie and a quick wit. Like all good noir protags, he’s been wounded by a dame, he’s being used and manipulated by people more powerful than himself, and he basically has noble intentions at heart. Unlike other such protags, Eddie comes back from the dead after he’s been killed–all he needs is for someone still breathing to touch him so he can steal their lifeforce–due to a pact made with the local demons in exchange for his soul. One of the local demon bosses wants Eddie to look into the rival demon crime family; sort of the ‘one last job’ routine. Of course Eddie has his own agenda, mostly relating to the dame and the deal for his soul. And so the caper is afoot. Bunn does a great job with the genre conventions, the dialogue, and with Eddie. You may not always like the guy, but you can definitely relate to him.

The Damned lays out a world very similar to our own–the whole demon/demonic magic angle being the divergence. It makes a lot of sense: if the demons are motivated by power and harvesting souls, what better place for them than organized crime? Kind of a magic realism device here, where the world is as it is and none of the characters question it. It also gives Brian Hurtt plenty of ammo to draw some cool demons in gangster suits. There are other nice turns, such as the place Eddie goes and what he sees during those brief periods when he’s dead. Even a nice sort of mythological sequence that establishes the whys and whatfors of the demons’ presence on earth, how they fell from the heavens, etc. Cullen Bunn has thought this through.

But herein lies the rub: if you’re going to have demons running around harvesting souls, where are the Almighty’s agents? Where are the angels or avatars or super-nuns and what have you? The stubborn mythologist in me knows you need that balance: Gandalf and The Nine, Jedi and Sith, Slayer and Vamps. But it ain’t here. Even if it’s only lip-service, I’d like to know there is some force counterbalancing the demons, something that worries them other than each other. I’m sure Bunn considered this to some extent and just decided not to go there. One of the difficulties of world building is getting carried away with the extrapolating at the expense of the story–and the story here is pretty tight. I don’t know where he would introduce this element, other than in passing reference; hopefully he addresses this in the next Damned story. I also wondered how the cops would deal with these demon criminals, but that’s sort of nitpicky.

Cruising by the creators’ websites (Bunn link, Hurtt link) I see the next story arc, Prodigal Sons begins in March (cover art above). A good sign for Indie Comics that a quality book like this has some legs. The Damned follows a proud tradition of books going all the way back to Bob Kane and the original Detective Comics. I’m not sure whether I’ll pick up the individual issues or wait for the trade, but I fully intend to buy it. The Damned: Three Days Dead was one of the better comics I’ve read in the last year or so.

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