You’d think that things would be bad enough when one of your best friends dies. Murphy is convinced his buddy Ben was murdered and he thinks he knows who did it. Tank and Amanda watch as Murphy captures and tortures the alleged culprit. How far will they go to avenge the death of their friend? Will they be able to live with themselves afterward?
The present day story in Dead End Kids is more than enough to pique my interest. What sets this book apart is the stellar character work from writer Frank Gogol. This comes in the form of quick, single page flashbacks showing different times in the lives of the three main characters. Each one captures a pivotal moment from their past that damaged them. Kids are very impressionable and they pick up on more than we give them credit for. If nothing else, these scenes made me think twice about how I speak and act in front of my own kids.
Gogol stops just short of telling you every single detail of these key scenes. Instead, you’re left to fill in the blanks yourself. Odds are, you’re jumping to the worst possible conclusion in each situation. For example, there’s a startling scene where Amanda’s father barges in on her in the bathroom. His shocked expression, captured perfectly by artist Nenad Cviticanin, says so much, even though we don’t actually see Amanda on this page. For all we know she could just have diarrhea and her dad is grossed out by it. Obviously, I think it’s something much more serious.
These flashbacks tie us closer to these kids since we now understand all of the heartache they’ve been through in their short lives. Ben represented the one good thing that united them and now he’s gone. It’s no wonder they’re so angry about his death.
The present day scenes are often shown in a grey color, like the life has been sucked out of these images. This complements the action very well as this cold, wooded setting often lacks the emotion seen in the flashbacks. It’s like the kids are operating outside the norm when they’re here, numb to whatever consequences their actions could cause.
That changes when they enter their fort. This is their safe space where they can feel the most comfortable. The difference between the two settings is like night and day. This structure is bright and vibrant, bringing a warmth unseen anywhere else in their lives. It makes the gruesome actions of Murphy all the more shocking as they contrast with the welcoming nature of the fort.
Letterer Sean Rinehart bounces between a number of colors for the word balloons. This is a nice effect, although I would have liked to see it done with more consistency. The colors shift between the same character in the same scene. Some of this is due to the color palette of a given panel. This might have flowed a little smoother if maybe the flashbacks were in one shade and the present day had another.
Dead End Kids is nothing short of riveting. As a ’90s kid, these characters really resonate with me. I see parts of myself in each of them which is why this book hits so hard. I’m sure I’m not alone with that sentiment. Everyone has felt like an outcast some time in their lives, especially in high school. These kids have been pushed around for as long as they can remember. Life has beaten the crap out of them and they’ve had enough. That will to soldier on is strong, but it could take a lot out of them.
Dead End Kids #2 from Source Point Press is currently available at your local comic shop.