Book of Death #4

Robert Venditti, Robert Gill and Doug Braithwaite chronicle the last battle of Gilad, the Eternal Warrior, in "Book of Death" #4. Although his battle is not directly with Master Darque, the villain of the series, Venditti delivers a satisfying conclusion to a somewhat low-key series, showcasing both the heroism of Gilad as well as that of Tama, the time-displaced Geomancer from the future who demonstrates her own merits. There's a very pervasive sense of the traditional hero journey in this concluding issue, which makes for a strong finale that shows there's a little more hope for the future of the Valiant Entertainment universe than previous issues and other "Book of Death" tie-in titles might have indicated.

Throughout much of the series, Gilad has come across as the stern taskmaster, repeatedly urging Tama to read the doomsday passages from the prophetic Book of Death while the whiny girl continuously tried to get out of it. While some of this dynamic carries into the early part of this issue, it disappears upon the arrival of the pending showdown between Gilad and Tama against Darque and his undead forces. When Tama does read from the book, though, its foreboding words are well-scripted by Venditti and also nicely laid out by Gill and Braithwaite. The sequence is also beautifully colored by David Baron and Brian Reber.

The redesign of Master Darque evokes Barry Windsor-Smith's original design from a couple of decades ago but is toned down somewhat into a more standard -- but still intimidating -- supervillain. The character's white flesh, undead appearance and red costume also evoke Carmine Infantino's Deadman to the same degree, if not more so. Nevertheless, Gill and Braithwaite's rendering of Darque is eerie, adding an ever more sinister quality to Venditti's own interpretation.

Venditti's script even gets a little mean-spirited when depicting Darque's torment of young David, the intended but inexperienced present day Geomancer. Like Tama, though, Venditti's characterization of David is pretty thin; the boy is little more than a scared and whiny victim, which is perhaps a fairly expected personification, but it's hard to feel much sympathy, even when he's in Darque's clutches. As a victim, though, David still serves his purpose as the means for Gilad to prove once again he's not only an eternal warrior, but an eternal hero.

The moments after the final battle are powerful, and Venditti caps off the issue with a hopeful and optimistic denouement. The lead-up to the issue's confrontations are superbly paced, paving the way for a terrific conclusion that serves as a nice recovery for the series' earlier shortcomings. The second half of "Book of Death" #4 alone is worth the cover price.

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