No more preamble! No more talking heads! Well, okay, a lot less talking heads. Either way, Jonathan Hickman, Esad Ribic and company’s epic is back on- with emphasis on the “EPIC”. Big time!
Punching through with twenty action-intensive pages, the issue is a near-textbook example of “all killer, no filler”. Soliloquies and asides at are a minimal, serving only as the briefest of strategic “base camp” cut-aways before returning to the front lines. In fact, the mid-speech takedown of rabble-rouser Maximus The Mad summarily lets everyone know what time it is.
Also acting as in-story metatextual nail-on-the-head is Baron Sinister, the book’s literal talking head. Between the aforementioned instances, it’s clear Hickman is having fun sending up his own penchant for “tell don’t show” verbosity. Indeed, The Bard himself would enjoy some of the word play found in these scenes but dammit if reducing a character to just a jabbering skull (a la Loki, zombie “Headpool”, etc.) isn’t a humor lock nine out of ten.
While Hickman dispatches the villains, he’s left a puzzler on the burner. A few issues back, Liferaft survivor, Carol “Captain Marvel” Danvers, winds up in Sinister’s kingdom. At first seen as a prisoner, Carol’s subsequently become something of a “house guest/advisor”. Despite a creepy undercurrent of domination-based “adult games”, it’s unclear exactly what’s happening in this dynamic as nothing’s explicit on-panel. Speculation lends itself toward a Psylocke/”Lady Mandarin”-type scenario, wherein, even in a brainwashed state, she proves too much for her new handlers. Still, Carol’s ability to absorb energy makes her a pretty unlikely battlefield casualty and, as such, the promise of explanation remains.
The visuals are undeniably the issue’s driving force. From the cover the bar is set high, as Alex Ross produces one of his strongest works- one that perhaps best encapsulates the story’s true scope better than any other solitary image. Inside, the team of artist Esad Ribic, colorist Ive Svorcina and letter Clayton Cowles not only continue their usual level of excellence but really roll up their collective sleeves and command some seriously visceral page turning! Fans of the “Final Incursion” mega-showdown from the first issue will be likewise impressed with this offering’s ’round-the-horn pacing.
Overall, “King of the Dead” feels like the part of the story the creators have been waiting to tell the entire time. Replacing any part of the equation just to keep product on a tighter shipping schedule is simply out of the question. This is quality worth waiting for- and a healthy reminder that it’s no coincidence that “Epic”, “Event” and “Esad” all start with a capital “E”. Now, toward that ending: Pedal, welcome back your old friend Metal!