New To You Comics #93: Image Comics’ Dark Comedy Crime Noir ‘Dead Eyes’ Vol. 1

by Brendan M. Allen

Tony and Brendan have very different tastes in comics. Tony loves his capes, super powers, and sci-fi. Brendan tends to stick to horror, noir, and weird indies. Occasionally, their paths cross, but like most readers, they tend to stay in their own lanes.

New To You Comics is here to break up the pattern a little. Tony will throw some of his favorites at Brendan, and Brendan will hit Tony with some of his. Every NTYC title is brand new to one of them. Once in a while a title will land with both of them. More often, they’ll find some common ground. When they don’t, it’s still fun to watch them go at it. Brendan fights dirty. Tony kicks like a mule.

This week, Brendan introduces Tony to  Image Comics’ Dead Eyes, from writer Gerry Duggan, artist John McCrea, colorist Mike Spencer, and letterer Joe Sabino. Here’s what Image says about the book:

‘In the 1990s, Dead Eyes was a prolific stick-up man and hoodlum in Boston until he took down one last big score and disappeared. Nobody ever discovered the truth. He retired to be with the love of his life, but now he’s back in the mask to save her. No one—not his wife, the mafia, or the cops—is happy that he’s out of retirement.’

Brendan Allen: Making comics is a funny business. In 1850’s New York, there was an Irish street gang called The Dead Rabbits. Dead, like “very,” as in “dead sexy.” Rabbit as a phonetic corruption of “ráibéad,” which is Irish Gaelic for “man to be feared.”

Basically, these dudes went around calling themselves the Irish period equivalent of The BMFs. Gerry Duggan and John McCrea started making this Dead Eyes comic in 2018, except it was called Dead Rabbit, in homage to the Five Points gang.

Then some bar in New York, also called The Dead Rabbit, served Image Comics with a Cease and Desist after the second issue, because their drink menu looks like a comic book. You can’t make this stuff up. Anyway, the Image book was really good, so after a mandatory recall and a slick redesign, Dead Rabbit came back. Except, now he goes by Dead Eyes. 

Then, the pandemic robbed us of a second arc. Who knows if Dead Eyes will ever get back on its feet, but in the meantime, we have this awesome first collection.

Tony Thornley: We talked about this when Dead Eyes popped up. I actually reviewed the first issue of Dead Rabbit, and missed the second issue… and totally missed the C&D. I was so incredibly confused, but I remember enjoying that first issue. So when Dead Eyes popped up, I thought it was some sort of sequel series or something like that.

That’s a long way of saying I sure enjoyed the first issue and was glad to revisit.

Brendan: Dead Eyes Volume 1 opens up with a nostalgic true crime piece on the local news that features the local antihero criminal Dead Eyes, who’s been MIA since his last big heist in the nineties. A thug, sure, but the dude had panache. Dead Eyes has been incommunicado these last decades and public opinion is that he’s living off the fat of his last big heist. Not quite.

There is no 401(k) or retirement medical plan for career criminals. And, since his wife has complex medical issues, what he did manage to squirrel away is long gone. The most prolific criminal in Boston’s history is dead broke, pulling shifts for a certain American multinational retail corporation as a greeter. 

Wife, crappy job, crippling debt, raging hemorrhoids… It’s the American Dream.

Then, something happens that gives Dead Eyes an opportunity to scratch the itch and there’s no turning back. Except, while the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak and many years out of practice. And that won’t even be Martin’s biggest problem.

Tony: Did I love the fact that we met Martin buck-naked while absolutely miserable? Visually, not so much. But it really set a scene that the story needed. Martin is in a bad spot. He’s burned through the money he “earned.” His wife’s health is failing. He’s had to return to work. Times are tough, and this is a great way for Duggan and McCrea to show it.

Brendan: Anyone who can’t relate to Martin’s er… situation in that introductory moment obviously hasn’t hit middle age yet. It’s not all sunshine and butterflies. Sometimes it’s burst hemorrhoids and piled up bills. 

Tony: Too real.

Brendan: We talk a bunch about exposition, and how tricky it can be. You don’t want six pages of narration boxes in the first chapter, or floating heads explaining the context. God, I hate those floating head narrators. If it’s not in my review queue, I’ll usually lay a book down for pulling shit like that. 

Duggan pulls out a slick trick with that news report,  basically giving all the backstory we need to kick this pig, without beating anyone over the head with clunky exposition. Petty thug, cool costume, pulled a big score against a mafia boss, got away with a few million, hasn’t been seen since. Gotcha. 

Popping around bars, homes, and that mob boss’ office while the TV is airing the program is near genius. Easily establishes exactly how this Dead Eyes fella is perceived in the community at large. Everyone seems to have a Dead Eyes story. Some are funny. All are super violent. 

Tony: I like the news report, because the other option probably would have been a flashback, which many other books would opt for. It allows for the exposition, while also setting the current scene. It’s smart work.

Beyond that, the story is a lot of fun. It’s not a standard heist and it’s not a standard crime story. It’s closer to a vigilante story, except the vigilante is stealing to fight a corrupt system or evil people. It gives the story a bit of a different flavor than most would expect.

Brendan: There’s also a razor sharp commentary on the current state of health care and insurance in the United States. Martin and his wife are uninsured, but their circumstances require a lot of specialized medical care, which eventually causes him to return to his old ways. Even with insurance, medically complex individuals find themselves in these situations all the time. 

Tony: And you and I have both experienced that with our kids personally. So, Gerry, you struck a chord with us.

Brendan: Art by John McCrea and Mike Spicer is dead brilliant. 

McCrea’s action sequences are something else. What does it look like when a goon who’s high on nitrous gets kicked in the stones? That one facial contortion shows both the euphoric effects of the drug and the excruciating pain of blunt testicular trauma, right before half the guy’s teeth are laid out across the floor with a little help from an oxygen tank. Hospitals are fun places to stage fights. Lots of fun props. Every fight scene in this book is well planned, intuitively laid out, and easy to track. 

Tony: McCrea is a legend for a reason. I love how much his art has evolved in the last twenty years. You can still see his sketchy and slightly angular style from Hitman but this is much more emotive. The characters feel like people, and whether it’s a quiet moment or an ass-kicking, that helps drive the story so much more.

The way he draws Dead Eyes is very cool too. He sticks out because he looks more like someone who should be in Gotham City, rather than a relatively realistic take on Boston. That draws the eye to his figure every time he’s on the page.

Brendan: Spicer’s color choices evolve in lockstep with the script. The book starts out with an almost trash polka palette for the flashback sequences that starkly contrasts the dull, bleak, washed out palette in Martin and Megan’s home. 

In the hospital scenes, light sources are harsh and artificial. Everything about actual hospital lighting is odd. The light is harsh and artificial. Somehow, hospital darkness even feels hollow and forced. Spicer nails the lighting, with all the weird shadows and too bright fluorescents. 

Tony: Absolutely, Spicer is a color artist that I feel like more folks should be talking about. He’s one of those like Jordie Bellaire that sits down with the story, and does what serves the story best. He’s not big and flashy, but he always is as much a storyteller as the writer and line artist.

Thanks to his colors, you can feel the desperation, and I like that.

Brendan: Dead Eyes is an extremely dark comedy, an ultra-violent crime noir that leans heavily into mafia and antihero tropes. It’s also a love story and a buddy picture. Doesn’t really seem like all those themes should be able to occupy the same real estate, but it works incredibly well. If you’re looking for an intense, character driven series, you can’t really go wrong with this one. 

Where’d you land?

Tony: I enjoyed it. I don’t really see it as a dark comedy though- this is a crime book with some solid humor elevating it from getting too bleak. It works really well, and I enjoyed it.

Brendan: Word. What’s up next?

Tony: We’re going to visit one of my absolute favorite superhero books of the last decade- Valiant’s Bloodshot Reborn V1 from Jeff Lemire & Mico Suayan. This one is right up your alley.

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