MARVEL HITS A DEADLINE
The trade paperback edition of DEADLINE is now available in comic shops. DEADLINE collects the four issue mini-series by Bill Rosemann and Guy Davis published earlier this year. It’s a ground level perspective of the superhero influence in Marvel’s New York City from the point of view of a young Daily Bugle reporter. The story is immediately immersing, with a nice sense of humor, a good cadence, and attractive art. It’s an exploration of the day-to-day lives of superpowered people, as well as a murder mystery with a twist.
The initial description might make you brace for a MARVELS-type book. This is not an attempt to rehash Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’ masterpiece, though. This doesn’t look back at classic Marvel stories from a new perspective. This is a modern tale of life in a city partially populated by superpowered people. It’s told on the street-level and doesn’t ever romanticize the concept.
DEADLINE compares better to what DC’s upcoming GOTHAM CENTRAL looks to be. DEADLINE is a look at The Daily Bugle in the same way that Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker’s December-shipping book is a look at the police department. It shows directly the effect that superheroes have on a major metropolis’ newspaper coverage.
Our eyes and ears is a green reporter and Notre Dame graduate, Kat Farrell. Through her narration, we’re introduced to the various personalities that make up the Bugle staff, and a series of low level places that interact with the cape community. Where does a cape with super tough skin gets a tattoo? Why, a parlor with an adamantium-tipped tattoo needle, of course. Where do they drink? Where do they heal? Where do they hang out? And what’s their behind the scenes relationship with the press? (Hint: they don’t all get along so well.) These are all things that Rosemann aims to discover in DEADLINE.
The heart of the book is the story of Judge Hart, who went missing on the same night his wife was brutally murdered in their home. How is he connected to a string of supervillain deaths, and if he’s dead, why is he suddenly appearing to Kat in a black robe with pale white skin? Rosemann sets up his mystery quickly, and moves thing along throughout the story. The story moves along with a certain confidence that the writer knows where he’s going and how he’s getting there. It doesn’t have the space to ramble, so it moves from point A to point B with confidence. For a relatively new writer, this is a good skill to have.
The book is drawn by the criminally underrated Guy Davis, with colors provided by the likewise overlooked Dave Stewart. Davis’ interpretation of Farrell is of a cute character who is not made up to be your typical superhero comic female. She doesn’t have the big breasts and long legs. She has shorter hair and wears glasses. She dresses like a normal person and not a runway model. It’s all a part of the feel of the book. This isn’t a romanticized look at superheroics or the people who make up their world.
Everything about this book attempts to look and feel “ordinary.” Davis puts a lot of detail into his art, mostly to emphasize the normalcy of the surroundings of these characters. The bullpen of the Daily Bugle is a hive of cubes decorated with computers, file folders, pinned-up articles, and background characters. The streets of New York City are teeming with doormen and cops and bums and businesswomen on cell phones. Davis’ panels are mostly medium shots, with plenty of talking heads and nothing to draw attention to its lines. Dave Stewart’s colors are mostly in the earth tone section of the palette. You don’t have any special effects or extreme angles in the art that would call attention to themselves at the expense of the story.
The only time the series jumps away from this style is in the third issue, which reveals a large part of the mission of Judge Hart. We’re taken to an alternate New York City, in something of a fantasy sequence that takes place one step outside of reality. The art is just as grandly drawn and just as dirty looking, but the story itself takes on a slightly different tone. It’s a big gamble for Rosemann, because so much of the story rests on the reader being willing to accept this left turn. It worked for me because it felt like a natural part of the story, and because Davis kept the look consistent with the rest of the book. We’d been teased about this place in earlier issues. This is just our first large look at it.
Kat Farrell’s biggest weak point may be in her initial introduction. She’s a single gal in the city, forced to pay inflated rents, put up with boorish men, and listen to a worried mother who thinks she’s never going to survive. It’s a short list of clichés for the “single gal in the city,” but you can easily overlook it because she’s so charming at it. She doesn’t whine. She’s a fighter. She works hard for the story that she’s investigating, and never gives up. Compare this to the reporter in SUPERMAN: DAY OF DOOM (reviewed here on Tuesday), in which the story drags down because of the hesitations of the reporter who’s featured. Farrell is an active protagonist, whose single minded determination occasionally puts her in harm. You never get that feeling, though, that she’s an idiot and that Superman will have to save her now, like you do sometimes with Lois Lane. Farrell doesn’t have a super powered guardian. She’s on her own and has to rely on herself. This makes her more likeable to me.
Artistically, the book’s only shortcoming is the covers. I’m not a fan of Greg Horn’s photo manipulated covers. In part, it’s because every female character looks alike, because she’s based on the same person. On the covers to the series, Kat looks like Elektra with a wig and glasses. I understand the draw of getting a different name — and perhaps one more known to Marvel audiences — to do the covers, but I don’t think this helps.
I hope we get to see more DEADLINE stories, though, no matter the cover artist. The ending of this initial book gives Kat plenty of room to continue her adventures as a member of the Bugle staff. There’s even a bit of a pattern in the individual issues that could work out on a series. Kat’s meetings with Betty Brant at a local diner are a good way to end each issue, and a bit of the home life or day-to-day work like of Kat Farrell is a good way to start. Each issue could introduce us to a different aspect of superhero activity that we never consider, from the needed (the super powered doctor’s office) to the esoteric (the tattoo parlor). Surely there are enough heroes and villains running around New York City for Kat Farrell to stay busy enough for a more regular series. At the very least, let’s hope another mini-series is in the works.
The book runs 96 pages for just under $10. It’s printed on nice heavy glossy paper that retains all the detail that the four original monthly issues showed. There aren’t any printing defects, missing or swapped pages, or color shifts. It’s a solid reprinting of a fine mini-series.
Good luck to DEADLINE’s author, Bill Rosemann, as he embarks upon a new life away from the Marvel Comics bullpen. I hope this allows him to focus on his writing. DEADLINE shows great promise.
While I’m at it, belated congratulations to Michael Doran for his new position at the House of Ideas. I hope he knows what he’s in for. I’ve seen people on the ‘net lining up already with their punching gloves on.
VariousAndSundry.com has been updated all week with a review of the new 4-disc edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, dumb disco, new DVD releases, and what’s gone wrong with MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE.
More than 400 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They’re sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML that’s soon going away.
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