Existentialism And DVD Escapism: ‘Deadbox’ #1 Advance Review

by Olly MacNamee


College student, Penny, is not the first or last person to feel trapped in her small town existence looking after her sick father, but it does get her thinking. Thinking of her life and the world around her. And in a town where there isn’t even the internet, she has to rely on a dusty old DVD vending machine for entertainment. But, what secrets does it really hold and why has no-one heard of any of the films it contains?


While writer and co-creator of Deadbox, Mark Russell, freely admits that this is a “goofy” concept for a horror comic, it’s certainly anything but a goofy read. College student Penny has had to extend her hometown return from college due to father’s longterm illness. And as narrator to this series she sets up the tone underpinning this book from the very first page with existential philosophising over the very nature of landownership and belonging. A comic book series that may be billed as a horror comic, but it certainly has far bigger themes to explore too. Themes that Penny clearly embodies as a person who is dreaming big, but feeling trapped in a small town, small minded rural community. You don’t have to be a student of Kierkergaard to enjoy this debut issue, but it helps. As you will find, he is a philosopher signposted throughout this book, in one way or another. 

Alongside such lofty inclusions as existentialism, we have the central concept of the whole series, a haunted DVD vending machine. And in a town that doesn’t even have the internet, this machine is a lifeline. Or, maybe the opposite? What’s even more strange about this outdated technology are the films on offer. Films that no-one, not even the somewhat educated Penny, have heard of. Although that doesn’t stop her from watching one, setting up a story-within-a-story structure that will clearly have repercussions in Penny’s reality. And one, I suspect, that will be repeated in future issues, but with different fictional movies. Y’know, like the Black Freighter comics in Watchmen. 

I haven’t come across artist Benjamin Tiesma before, but he does a solid job of illustrating Deadbox #1 and establishing both the all-American town as well as the various citizens we meet as they come through Penny’s father’s shop across the course of the day. He also does a great job designing and realising the sci-fi elements of this first issue the story-within-a-story as well as introducing a more horrifying style too. Now that takes some doing, and Tiesma handles it well. Considering the different genres he has to juggle. The various genres juggled in this debut issue are separated by the colour artist of Vladimir Popova and as such everything is perfectly fleshed out and established concisely and quickly, with Russell’s dialogue working in unison with the imagery to fill in the readers on all they need to know, while leaving plenty unsaid too.

By now I imagine you are either on Team Mark or not. His writing is always enjoyable but equally thought-provoking, which I have always enjoyed in my funny books. If anything there should be more voices like Russell’s out there, but while there aren’t that many, I am more than happy to read anything new by this scribe. 

Deadbox #1 is out Wednesday September 1st from Vault Comics

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