Death Be Damned
Ben Acker, Ben Blacker, and Andrew Miller (Writers), Hannah Christenson (Artist), Juan Useche (Colorist), Colin Bell (Letterer)
November 29, 2017
Let’s get the fun part out there first: Death Be Damned is a warped western Frankenstein revenge tale.
I have been a fan of Ben Acker and Ben Blacker’s The Thrilling Adventure Hour for several years. So, naturally, when I received the collected edition of BOOM! Studios’ Death Be Damned and saw their names listed as the writers—along with Andrew Miller—I expected something strong with heavy humor. Though what I read was a far cry from what I read of their previous work, I was wonderfully surprised.
The story focuses primarily on a lone survivor of a massacre who drags herself home to find the bodies of her husband and daughter. Though she isn’t given a name in the first issue, her intent is made expressly clear—she’s out for revenge on the men who killed her family come hell or high water. You are also introduced to Joseph, the Undertaker, a novice necromancer with a gentle heart and a deep desire to bring his beloved wife back from the dead.
While the two seem to have very different paths set out for them, one bringing back life and one set on bringing death, they meet in a brothel in South Pass City where the protagonist has tracked one of her family’s assailants. As she begins to repay the death of her husband and attempts to take the murderer’s life while he is distracted, he suspects her coming and shoots her first. The character is then swept into what looks like an alternate reality. The panels are a swirl of vibrant colors contrasting the happenings of the past and the cold clutch of the protagonist floating through limbo, almost looking from the outside in.
While this would normally be the end to any traditional Western story, the Undertaker has other plans for her in mind. As he resurrects her, he frantically tells her that she is the only person he has come across who can come back from “The Underneath.” Though she is eager to leave and continue her quest for retaliation, she gathers herself long enough to give her name—Miranda. Joseph pleads with her to die again and bring back the soul of his wife. Miranda chooses not to concern herself, as she has her own duty to carry out. But much like the rest of the story, Miranda’s relationship with life and death are not exactly under her control anymore.
The story can be a little hard to follow at times, admittedly, although one can only expect so much continuity while repeatedly jumping between life and death. However, the interaction between the characters more than makes up for the loose narrative points. Acker, Blacker, and Miller have certainly brought the Wild West to the page in terms of dialog, including old-timey idioms and dialect which make the conversations very immersive even in the most tense situations.
But what really ties everything together is the artwork by artist Hannah Christenson and colors by Juan Useche, whose aesthetics play into both the Western theme perfectly and the haunting spirituality of life after death. The amazing combination of Christenson’s lines—simplistic and stylized—and Juan Useche’s bold use of color bring this weird Western tale to life like Joseph the Undertaker. Some pages were so striking I found myself wanting to reflect on them even after the reading was done.
The story takes so many supernatural turns that it’s hard not to give away plot with the simplest of details, but that is what made this such an enjoyable read. There is something on every page that will make you think and wonder what eerie thing is around the corner. For anyone that is a fan of weird (and certainly nontraditional) Western tales, Death Be Damned is a must-read. It’s gripping, it’s heart-wrenching, and with all of its bold originality, you’ll be glad to have the collection in your hands.