THE DEAD HAND #1 by Kyle Higgins, Stephen Mooney, and Jordie Bellaire
While some of the plot is a bit confusing, the overall experience of THE DEAD HAND #1 is very satisfying. With spectacular art by Mooney and Bellaire, and a really intense opening sequence, this is a series to watch in the coming months.
87 %
Dark and Ominous
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Due to its very nature, many facts of the Cold War are simply unknown. It was a war of intelligence and spies, so many of the “battles” of that period took place in the shadows. This makes the Cold War setting a writer’s playground. With so much narrative potential, it surprises me how few comics take place in the Soviet Union. Now, writer Kyle Higgins with artists Stephen Mooney and Jordie Bellaire take readers back in time to the final days of the Soviet Union and to the years that follow its collapse in THE DEAD HAND #1.

The creative team places us in the shoes of Carter Carlson, a former CIA black operative. A trained killer and spy, we get to see his life after the subterfuge and death of the Cold War. Carlson has taken to a normal life as sheriff in the quiet town of Mountain View. However, not everything is as it seems in this version of small town America. And when a visitor interrupts their quiet, happy lives, we will discover that maybe the Cold War isn’t over yet.

The Red Star

Dead Hand #1
THE DEAD HAND #1, Page 1. Courtesy of Image Comics

The strongest aspect of THE DEAD HAND #1, by far, is the incredible artwork by Stephen Mooney. His style has this inherent grittiness that accentuates the atmosphere of every scene. During Carlson’s stint in the Soviet Union, he fills the story with these intense black patches that seem to portray the darkness of the events in question. Meanwhile, the scenes in Mountain View feel more subdued in the inking. I especially appreciated Mooney’s cover and supplemental work in this issue. The call backs to old JAMES BOND title sequences and spy movies are obvious and very cool to see. I loved the bleak red and black title pages used in the first quarter of this issue. They really set the reader in the scene and the use of real newspaper headlines here really highlights the Cold War setting.

Jordie Bellaire’s color work only amplifies this fantastic artistry. The way Bellaire differentiates between the Cold War and the Mountain View sequences really cements the atmosphere. The Cold War is exactly that; it feels cold and unwelcoming. The desaturated color palette that Bellaire uses gives the opening sequence a faded, fearful quality. Meanwhile, her paintings of Mountain View and of Carlson’s childhood feel much more homely. She gives each of these sections a very homey feel that hides the very intense secrets buried beneath “small town America.”

BLACK MAGICK vs Real Belief Systems

Carter’s Less-Than-Glamorous Life

THE DEAD HAND #1, Page 2. Courtesy of Image Comics

The opening half of THE DEAD HAND #1 represents some of Kyle Higgins’ best work. The overarching plot feels incredibly balanced, delving into the really cool spy moments while also focusing on flashbacks of Carter’s childhood. The action sequences in the open feel a lot like old JAMES BOND flicks, with Carlson sneaking through the Russian compound. However, I mostly appreciated this opening for the ways it subverted the typical genre tropes. Carlson doesn’t come across as the suave super spy with a license to kill. He seems more like a soldier first, and what he finds in the Soviet bunker is definitely not weapons of mass destruction. This subversion kept me on my toes as Higgins continued to play with it throughout the issue.

Coming into the latter half, though, I feel like THE DEAD HAND #1 loses some inertia. The story definitely works, and the sudden shift to Carlson as small town detective is intriguing. However, I feel like something is lost in translation. So much time has passed and so many secrets are only alluded to that I felt myself growing more and more confused. The whole sequence had a WAYWARD PINES surrealist feel, which works well. However, it doesn’t give the reader enough information on this first go around. I appreciated the time we got to spend with Carlson through this issue. Such a close point of view, though, allows the writer to keep some pretty big secrets from the reader. Before the next issue is over, I am going to need a lot more info on Mountain View’s origin.

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The Sheriff of Mountain View

Dead Hand #1
THE DEAD HAND #1, Page 3. Courtesy of Image Comics

In terms of characterization, THE DEAD HAND #1 sails far above most of its competition. The way Higgins focuses in so closely on Carlson feels very satisfying. The lengthy flashback sequence forces us to understand Carlson’s present situation. We can follow his exact through-line of decision-making, and that lends the story major credibility. I especially enjoyed the touch of untrustworthy narrator Higgins employs in this story. The word balloons throughout always skirt around serious emotions that Carlson wants to avoid. This technique feels somewhat experimental in comic books, and I especially enjoyed its use here.

I will say, though, that THE DEAD HAND #1 does “tell” its readers a lot. This seems like a strange criticism to have, considering it is usually aimed at novels. With word-only formats, the writer has to work to “show” a scene or setting. The lead character can have so much more impact if we know the details of his appearance and the way he interacts with the world, rather than being told “he was this type of guy.” I feel like we get a bit too much of the latter in THE DEAD HAND #1. There are a lot of text balloons in Carlson’s flashbacks that feel like they are stripped right from a newspaper. They simply share interesting information instead of giving Carlson a personality. I appreciated how much we learned about the character here, but I never felt attached to his stakes.

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Final Thoughts: THE DEAD HAND #1

THE DEAD HAND #1 is a very good opening issue. While the latter half of the story loses some clarity, and it suffers a bit from too much “telling,” this issue has a fantastic pace and an intriguing premise. Despite my minor criticisms above, I felt very satisfied when I finished reading this issue. Seriously, the thought processes behind this Cold War story really impress me. While I want just a little bit more from the second issue, I have every intention of picking it up on release.

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