Review: Deadhorse #1 by Eric Grissom and Phil Sloan
by RJ Schwabe on December 28, 2011

I don’t know how anyone else feels about it, but I am very much on board for the digital comics revolution. I buy comics online and I read and support web comics that I enjoy. I am very aware of the amount of storage space that I have (and I have a house with both an attic and basement), so I love the thought of consuming non-physical sequential art. The internet has allowed an abundance of creativity to shine and emerge. But with that comes the “Open Mic Poetry Reading” phenomenon, where you cannot criticize anything, because you’re squashing the individual’s creative spirit, or being a hater, or being jealous of someone else’s work.

Somehow, criticism is only valid if the creator is getting (well) paid for their work.1

Anyway, with that in mind, I was approached (through Twitter if you must know) by Eric Grissom to review his (and artist Phil Sloan’s) online comic book, Deadhorse. Of course, my over-inflated ego leapt at the chance, telling the Eyeore part of my brain, “And you said that reviewing comic books wouldn’t amount to ANYTHING!”

But then, there comes the dilemma. What if I don’t like it?

I mean if I write a review that trashes the work of a professional comic book creator, they can simply write something mean, wait for their devoted fans to start a flame war, or (worse of all) ignore me altogether. But, if I pick on some web comic creators who are pricing each comic book at 99 cents, man I would look like a total dick! 2

So the only thing I can do is say to the readers as well as the Deadhorse creative team, that I will review it honestly. I must state whether I like it, don’t like it, or if it’s decent but not my preference. However, my snarkiness will certainly be reduced. It’s what I would want someone else to do for me, if I was showing off my creative side.3

Deadhorse #1

Published By: www.deadhorsecomic.com/

Writer: Eric Grissom
Artist: Phil Sloan
Cover Price: Free (Issue #2 is $0.99)
Review: Digital Copy

No history on the title or the creators, so let’s just dive in.

Synopsis

  • In the year 1877, a man named Gadsworth leads a search party to find his father’s expedition in Denali, Alaska. Gadsworth recovers a box from his father’s grasp.
  • Today, William Pike lives in Anchorage, and has recently lost his teaching job with the university. He is sent a letter, directions, and a key to find a locked box by his father, who has been dead for forty years.
  • As he is leaving, William is invited to have a sandwich with his elderly neighbors, who try to kill him in order to retrieve the key and return it to Gadsworth.
  • William escapes, as he plans to visit Andrew Conroy near Denali, Alaska

Analysis

I really feel like a major tool, because I wrote all of that preamble crap about potentially not liking this comic book. You know, playing it up for readers to expect the worst. IT’s really a shame, because this comic is VERY good. So much so, that I purchased a copy of issue #2, rather than reading the review copy that they gave me.

The story is a seemingly ‘normal’ one with a strong hint of supernatural elements below the surface. I would almost say “Lovecraftian” in nature, but not meaning ‘dark ones’ and ‘elder gods’ but more the sinister magic and traps that are found beneath the surface all around us. I may be reading the ‘hints’ wrong, but with messages sent from 40 years prior, a key that must be guarded, and a box with strange writing on it. So that adds up to a supernatural tale in my book.

The opening story thread is pretty interesting. I enjoy a story that isn’t going to tell you which path it’s going to take. There is no horror at the campsite to suggest that truly sinister acts took place there, though the characters words definitely reflect that. But the camp is just filled with dead bodies that could have frozen to death in the Alaskan wilderness, and yet, there is that hint of something more.

And let’s definitely admit that the setting of Alaska is a rather unique place to set a story. I really like it, especially going back to the late 1800s. I’m not sure how this will connect to the main story, whether the setting is good due to its remote nature or some hidden treasure/evil/power that is found in the Alaskan wilderness. I am eager to see more

The art is very clever. Minimalist art is very hit or miss with me. Sometimes I really love it, and other times it really bothers me. But Phil Sloan has a definite flair to his style of artwork, which very much reminds me of the Indy style currently making the rounds. There is a sort of art-deco flair to the angular faces and background details that seems very reminiscent to Doug Tennapel’s work on the web comic Ratfist.

I also love little inside jokes in comic books. And I think that Phil Sloan made a Powerpuff girls reference in the elevator scene, but I may be missing something there.

There are a few legitimate issues with the comic book. The interlude showing William Pike getting fired from his job was very confusing. Pike has darker hair than he does three months later, so it took me some time to realize that it was definitely him. The reaction of the characters was very strange throughout the dialog. None of the dialog really revealed too much about Pike, his profession, or even whether he liked his job or not. And I wasn’t sure if the creators were making a joke with the book store discount comment.

William Pike is shown as a man with phobias and foibles, but little about his character is actually shown. He seems like a man who desires action but is held back in the trappings of being a nice guy. But, it is very hard to know whether I like William or not. I am hopeful that more of William’s personality will come through in future issues.

And the scene with the elderly couple is very interesting. The strangeness of these two people comes through, and is very effective. The creative team is going for humor certainly in a few places, and I very much appreciate it. But the scene where the bird emerges from the mouth of the fish is just strange in its depiction. At first it seems like a practical joke. Then, it sort of seems supernatural in nature. And finally, it seems like just something that William just rolls with, as it could actually happen in real life.

However, these are very minor complaints that I noted when I went back to review the book, and not when I was scrolling through the pages enjoying the action.

So, who would like this? Well, I think anyone who appreciates a quirky action adventure title with lots of humor mixed in. Anyone who likes a quirky art style combined with a very interesting take on plot and characters. It’s a very timeless tale that I think would appeal to anyone.

My one worry is that the tale they seem to be crafting is rather large. Not something that will be resolved in five issues. And as a reader, I would lose some interest if the title did not come out somewhat frequently. The timetable on the website suggests that three more chapters will be made available sometime in 2012. I’m hoping that they can keep up a decent schedule4, and not lose any momentum. I would hate to see an interesting work like this fall by the wayside, due to an erratic schedule.

Verdict

The double-edge sword of the endless supply of entertainment on the web means that there is good stuff that we won’t find. I am very happy to have found this, and I wish the creative team all of the luck and good fortune that I can muster. It is a title I am happy to have read, and I am happy to keep following. Keep up the good work, gentlemen.

8.5 (Great first issue)

 

Footnotes

1 – Please note! This is NOT a foreshadowing of my review.

2 – More than I do normally, I mean

3 – If you must know, my successful creative side is in cooking. I make an awesome cheesecake.

4 – I’d say they should strive for every 45-60 days.



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