Stjepan Sejic's 40-page "Death Vigil" #1 has a surprisingly kind beating heart and sense of humor beneath all the violence and gore, which raises it up into a more interesting work while still laying solid groundwork for villains, master plans and all kinds of evil afoot.
"Death Vigil" could easily fall into the too-dark-too-serious trap like so many other books dealing with death and magic, but thanks to Sejic's sense of humor and an almost heartfelt goodness contrasting nicely with the requisite dark matter, this is a nice surprise. The first issue is a fairly basic set up introducing key characters already a part of the Death Vigil and a newcomer destined to join their ranks. While the plot itself doesn't offer much in the way of surprises or cover new ground, the characters and tone it sets is a welcome change of pace. The characters don't speak in gloom, doom and prophecy or project a grim afterlife of service; instead, they feel like a family and speak plainly, setting "Death Vigil" nicely apart from the usual prophecy-ridden grim aura that usually define these kinds of comics.
Sejic's art is similarly appropriate for the tone he sets in the writing, balancing epic evil and the closeness of a created family of supernatural fighters of evil with ease. He pulls no punches when it comes to otherworldly monsters -- both the good guys and the bad. His Viking ship of skeletal ghost good guy types is awesome -- so is his terrifying banshee trying to kill them. At the same time, it's the happy joking face of Sam that makes it all work.
Sejic has a painted style that looks glossy and slick, but underneath, there's a looseness to the line that keeps the art feeling organic and full of energy instead of still and emotionless. There's a lot of attention paid to lighting, including supernatural powers soaking scenes in reds or blues, and it all sets the mood gorgeously. The storytelling is nicely clear overall and the expression work is especially strong. The dialogue balloons, particularly their tails, are a bit fussy and they draw the eye when they shouldn't. To make up for it there's some fun use of text for the Banshee creature -- it's a little digital, but clever and well executed.
A huge 40 pages would make "Death Vigil" a good buy even if it weren't such a charming surprise. But it is a charming surprise with a good sense of humor, smart subversive world building, and very pretty art, all adding up to a book well worth a read.