Halfway through the first issue of “Dead Letters,” the new ongoing series by Christopher Sebela and Chris Visions from BOOM! Studios, it may feel a little chaotic and jumbled. That’s understandable — because as more of this story unfolds, involving a man who doesn’t know where or even who he is, it’s that confusion that ultimately drives the comic forward.
Sebela was deliberately vague in interviews talking about “Dead Letters” #1, and with good reason; it’s a story where if you don’t know the reveal, it results in a strong added punch. While everything’s a little all over the place, that makes sense: the protagonist is, too, and it’s giving you an idea of what’s going on inside his head.
More importantly, though, Sebela keeps the story moving forward at just the right pace. It starts out frantic and hurried, and then by the time readers get to the diner, things are slowing down and both the protagonist and the audience allowed to exhale. It’s a smart way to write a first issue; it starts off in the dark, there’s a fair amount of excitement, and then at the end of the comic we get some much-needed exposition that sets everything into a different frame of reference. Here’s the important thing, though: if the reveal was spoiled in advance of reading the comic, it’s still enjoyable. You aren’t in the dark, but the protagonist is, and watching him muddle through the strange situation he’s in is a different sort of excitement that’s fun too.
That said, while the story in “Dead Letters” #1 is fun, it’s the art from Visions that is the big winner. Visions’ art reminds me of a more controlled version of graffiti; it’s got big gentle swoops and curls, but with a tight focus that pulls everything together. He and colorist Ruth Redmond collaborate beautifully here; I challenge you not to gasp just a little bit on that final page as the protagonist and Maia stare out the window and let you drink in the cityscape and what’s happened to it. Visions has a great sense of body language in his art; when Maia gives off a little shrug while chewing and opening up the blinds, it all comes together perfectly. The motion with her mouth and the piece of food in the cheek, the slight tug on the blinds cord, the way her other hand and arm gesture with the fork. You can instantly tell what she’s doing because of how well Visions has that pose on the page.
“Dead Letters” #1 is a good start to a series, one that plays out an opening mystery while really introducing a bigger one at the same time. Sebela’s a writer who has become someone to watch for, and Visions’ art makes me want a lot more from him too. All in all, a pleasant surprise.