This is a lot better than the last “Dead of Night” series, that’s for sure, but it’s difficult to judge the series based on this particular first issue because not much happens at all. It’s certainly nothing like any other incarnation of Devil-Slayer, a character who I know almost nothing about except that he fought Deathlok, hung around with the Defenders from time to time, and had a really ugly costume and cool-looking weapons. It’s not often you saw a Marvel superhero with a sword, but apparently Devil-Slayer could pull all kinds of weapons out of his magical cloak.
We don’t get any of that stuff here.
The cape is gone, the blue costume with the funny headgear is gone, the sword, alas, is gone, contrary to what the cover may indicate.
All of that stuff might show up next issue for all I know, but I doubt it. This is a brand new approach to the character. Grittier, more contemporary, MAX-ified.
Like Garth Ennis and Howard Chaykin’s recently-concluded “Phantom Eagle” MAX series, this is a war comic. It’s not WWI on display here, though, it’s our current war in Iraq. And while Ennis and Chaykin embraced the disillusionment and the randomness of their time, writer Brian Keene and artist Chris Samnee embrace the chaos and the corporate influence of our time. “Dead of Night Featuring Devil-Slayer” (hereafter called just “Devil-Slayer”) #1 isn’t an allegory about our current military escapades. It’s distinctly about what’s going on in Iraq right now, but with a supernatural twist at the end.
This isn’t called “Devil-Slayer” because he’s fighting metaphors. There’s some ugly little horned critters by the final page.
But most of this issue is what you might expect from a novelist writing a comic. I hate to fall into the trap of saying that Keene’s prose leanings haven’t prepared him for comic book storytelling, but there’s a distinctly slow pace to this first issue. It’s basically like this: protagonist is back in Iraq after failing to re-enter civilian life at home, then the squad zooms off on an extraction mission, then bloodshed and, hey, demons! Here’s what Keene does not do, though: he doesn’t overdo the captions, which is nice. He lets the story unfold mostly through the visuals and the dialogue. And the dialogue is quite good — tight and specific. Even though the characters are mostly war story cliches (the vet who can’t hack it back home, the photo of the girlfriend, the eager young newbie), the dialogue seems authentic enough to make the story work. Keene seems to know what he’s writing about, which is nice to see.
The real star of this issue is Chris Samnee’s artwork, though. He’s come a long way since “Capote in Kansas.” His characters can sometimes have strange body language, but he is a master of light and shadow, and when the violence starts to explode on the page, Samnee sells it with chilling detail. He’s of the Mazzuchelli/Lark school, and it’s an interesting style for a supernatural horror comic. I like it a lot.
I assume the protagonist, Danny Sylva, will find some kind of magic cloak and become the new Devil-Slayer. Or maybe he’ll just kill these demons the old fashioned way, with weapons and a bad attitude. But I don’t think he’ll be donning a blue costume and cape anytime soon.
I don’t know why this is labeled as a “Dead of Night” comic, since it has nothing to link it to the previous, poorly-received series, and I assume the “Devil-Slayer” concept will pop up sooner rather than later. But so far it’s just a decently written Iraq war comic with a bit of devilishness at the end. I hope Keene has something a bit more unique planned for the next few issues.