Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Dead Drop 4, originally released August 26th, 2015.
Drew: Endings always take a bit of finesse, but Ales Kot set his ending to hard mode in Dead Drop 4. He had to do all of the regular ending things — wrapping up the plot, landing on a resonant theme, giving every character a satisfying final beat — but he also had to introduce a new agent to do it; not only to maintain the pattern established in the first three issues, but because all of his other agents had been incapacitated. That’s no easy task, but Kot cleverly uses that need to his advantage, bringing in a character that is as much about tying up loose ends as this issue needed to be.
To call Detective Alejandra Cejudo a Black Widow clone might be a bit reductive — at the very least, hyper-competent detective has a very different flavor from hyper-competent assassin — but that’s exactly the comparison Kot and artist Adam Gorham invite from page one.
There’s a lot we can glean about this character from this image — her boots, her posture, and her gun all mean business — but the most important detail might be that belt of golden ovals. Sure, this might look a tad different from the one we’re used to seeing Black Widow running around in, but it’s close enough to act as a meaningful shorthand. Again, Cejudo might not always be a Black Widow stand-in (indeed, as far as I can tell, she never has been before), but Kot and Gorham are hinting that she’s going to be one here.
Of course, Black Widow isn’t always known for her strong characterization — she’s more defined by her competence and guilt than by her personality. That works against giving Cejudo any meaningful character beats here, but it also allows Kot and Gorham to get right to wrapping up this miniseries. She’s a badass who gets shit done. Check. Now let’s see her get shit done.
She quickly puts the last pieces of the puzzle together — the kids we saw trying to steal the virus weren’t with the aliens or any terrorist group, they were just hackers trying to do the right thing. They got in the way, for sure, but they were trying to do the right thing. As for rescuing our contaminated heroes, well, that falls on the Alien ex machina, whose own exposure to the virus has left it with no desire other than the sweet release of death. Cejudo is able to use that desire to her advantage, bargaining to kill the alien and destroy the virus in exchange for curing X-O Manowar and Archer.
That the alien can magically cure anyone seems awfully convenient, especially given that it apparently can’t cure itself. But whatever; the virus was a silly MacGuffin from the outset — it was never really the point of this series. Of course, that begs the question of what is the point of this series. For me, it was all about fun, snappy introductions to a few Valiant characters, which worked beautifully here. Some were misses, for sure: Archer is a bit to close to Hawkeye for me to really latch on to, and I don’t feel like I have any sense of who Cejudo actually is; but there were also a few hits: I’ll gladly check out X-O Manowar after reading this mini. Beta-Max is by far my favorite character in this series, so I’ll look out for him in the future, but I fear his appearances may be few and far between.
But I suppose mileage will vary on that particular “point” of the series. Patrick, I know Kot’s virus/war allegory from issue 3 left an impression on you, so I’m curious to see if you’re able to draw any conclusions on that front. Does this series come to any grander conclusion than “war is suicide by another name”? Does its success or failure on that front even matter? I was pretty quick to dismiss the convenient ending as part and parcel of a four-issue mini, but maybe I’m setting the bar too low. Is there anything else you would have liked to see from this final issue?
Patrick: I believe that the convenience of the resolution is the point of the series. For as long as we’ve been reading his work, Kot’s comics have always been anti-war and anti-killing. Even when he would write about notorious killers in the Marvel Universe — Winter Soldier, Black Widow, Deadpool, M.O.D.O.K. — their salvation only ever came about through acts of mercy and clemency, not through typical superhero means of punches and explosions. I do find it fascinating how specifically Kot and Gorham tie this concept of non-violent resolution to Cejudo’s gender.
We’re introduced to Cejudo silently, but one of the first things she says is: “Lieutenant First Class Ellen Louise Ripley reporting for duty” as she checks in with Neville, her handler, via radio. Dead Drop has a tone that demands a little bit of levity, and a reference to a blockbuster horror/action franchise fits right in that wheelhouse. But the reference takes on a little extra meaning when you consider that she’s not even actually saying a line that actually appears in any of the Alien films. I’m a big fan of those movies, and her attempt at quoting immediately misfired in my brain. The closest thing to what Cejudo says in the Alien movies is the final part of Ripley’s distress call, which closes out the first movie (and the third for that matter): “This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off.”
Alien is obviously a pretty good analogue for this issue. Both are focused around a woman, both feature aliens and disease, both ultimately force the hero to act against the will of the organization that sent her out there in the first place. For me, the most compelling similarity is how both Cejudo and Ripley bring about resolution to their conflicts – you can’t really say that neither is non-violent, but they both sorta refuse to play the game as it’s laid out for them. Ripley, rather than trapping the alien or trying to fight it, simply escapes. And then when confronted in the escape pod, she opens the door, letting the vacuum of space destroy the xenomorph. Cejudo’s solution is similarly analytical, and relies less on her abilities to fight people (and aliens) and more on her ability to approach problem solving from a different perspective.
Earlier in the issue, when Cejudo finally corners the hackers, she doesn’t have to torture them, or even really interrogate them. In fact, they’re more or less willing to give up whatever information might be useful to her. Again, Kot highlights the idea that this is happening because two of the characters involved are women.
Rather than letting the conversation get dragged into a pissing contest about how “everything is hackable,” the women are able to steer the conversation toward cooperation.
I guess it’s also sorta telling that Cejudo would succeed where Archer, XO-Manowar and Beta-Max would all fail. As charming as their adventures where, the first three issues were more run/jump/punch than they were solving any of the series’ problems. In fact, all three of those characters brought their infection or destruction upon themselves by trying to the alien/virus/terrorist threat with traditional methods. “War is suicide by another name” may be a message that we don’t only have to apply to the aliens.
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