by Patrick Ehlers
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
While the concept of a ghost investigating its own murder is pretty straightforward, there’s something of an incongruous cognitive leap we need to make to buy into it. Specifically, if there’s a consciousness around to investigate its own murder, is that person really dead? It’s a circular logic question, and one that ultimately isn’t super fruitful — either we buy in to the premise of the story or we don’t. But that tension still hangs over the proceedings in Deadman 1, and creator Neal Adams leans into that emotional confusion hard, breaking down every page and every story beat into a whirling WTF mess of plot twists and body swaps.
All of which is to say that this issue more or less leaves me confused. Between Boston Brand highjacking other character’s bodies and Batman disguising himself as Jim Gordon for the majority of the issue, no one is ever really who they claim to be. To add further confusion, Adams will frequently obliterate his own panel dividers to disorient the reader. So when Batman does arrive to take Gordon’s place during the tour of the nuclear site, it’s hard to parse out what’s actually happening.
No one stays in their panel! As an isolated image, can you tell me how many characters there are that look like Jim Gordon in this scene? Two? Four? One? Adam’s halting dialogue doesn’t help matters, and characters seldom finish whatever the fuck they were trying to say.
Actually, that’s a big thorn in the issue for me. Adams has Deadman communicating with the reader in three different ways — sometimes through a kind of third person narration that expresses Boston’s thoughts omnisciently, sometimes through thought balloons, and occasionally by Boston straight up speaking. Here’s an example of all three within two panels.
I don’t really like to rag on what are obviously stylistic choices, but the density of Adam’s pages, combined with his insistence on demolishing clarity kind of kills this thing for me. There are a couple pages where Adams recaps Deadman’s origin story, but between elements of it that are new to me (a twin brother named Cleveland? Tiny the Circus Strongman?) and this persistent collage / mosaic scene presentation, I can’t make heads or tails of this thing. Even when I feel like I’m ahead of the issue’s deceptions, I can’t work out character’s motivations. There’s a point where Batman, disguised as Jim Gordon brutally beats Hook, clumsily asking “WHO EMPLOYS YOU?” The reveal that this is Batman explains a little, but it’s still behavior that doesn’t totally track for Batman, especially when Boston spends the rest of the issue berating Bruce for NOT BEING BRUTAL ENOUGH.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?