Dead Legends makes me feel the same way I do when the Mortal Kombat theme starts playing.
Dead Legends II
Ryan Ferrier (letterer), James Maddox (writer), Gavin Smith (artist)
A Wave Blue World
October 13, 2021
In my review of the first issues, I wrote:
First and foremost, this is a book for fans of fighting movies, especially legendary kung fu masterpieces like Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon. Such fans will appreciate the homages to those films, as well as the elaborately detailed fight sequences depicting deadly moves and the dire consequences to both giver and receiver. It’s not easy to make the still medium of comics feel like it’s moving, but artist Gavin Smith works magic with the action, making every panel featuring fighting feel like it’s in motion.
This still stands — or rather — this still flips, leaps, slices, dives, kicks, punches… The way this book flows through the action makes it seem like flipping the pages fast enough will come just close to it feeling like you’re actually watching a film. Action sequences are kinetic, with non-stop movement from panel to panel. This doesn’t take anything away from the story, even though many of these sequences are devoid of words, allowing the action to literally speak for itself (sometimes with masterfully deployed special effects.) The pacing of the story doesn’t give the reader much time to breathe, much less turn the page before some new twist is thrown our way.
Yet, despite all this seeming freneticism, there is definitely a careful and deliberate order and method within the blood and guts, kicks and punches. Writer James Maddox absolutely has a story to tell and characters for us to love or hate, and he doesn’t skimp on any part of the delivery.
In the first volume of the Dead Legends series, we met the combatants of the global secret tournament and saw our heroine, Yan Nakamura, fight her way to the top and avenge her murdered husband. But when she got there, she refused to fight the reigning champion, Damon, which has now spurred him into action after a long time in apathy due to the lack of worthy competition. In Dead Legends II, Yan’s refusal to fight Damon has led him to obsess over finding her, leaving Yan constantly on the run with the companions who have sworn to protect her and her toddler, Yoshi.
Among those companions are Barbosa, the resident comedic relief. Maddox uses a subtle hand with comedy though — while Barbosa often ends up as the main caregiver of Yoshi, resulting in some diaper-related sight gags and colorful comments, he’s no mere class clown. A skilled fighter like all of them, he can hold his own — while holding baby — and work a little explosive magic on the side.
Stalk and Master Jee Sin are equally impressive physical fighters, but it’s their way with words that permeates the book as, after being captured, they quietly turn the tables on the Dead Legends tournament from the inside.
And finally, back to Yan. As the focus for everyone in the story, her status as the protagonist is the default, but this volume is about learning what makes the other characters tick as they weave around her. We discover that there is more to Damon than his silky hair and his obsession with Yan. And we get some backstory on Addie, aka Red Death, and why she’s so determined to protect her new friend and baby Yoshi.
These revelations are told in monochrome panels of grays or blues, but Addie’s red hair and the founts of blood remain focal points in some of my favorite scenes in the book. This is often where the art changes in style and tone to momentarily quieten the story, only to pick it right back up again with more vicious action. The stylistic switches, along with the plot twists, keep you constantly on your toes and wondering how every moment will play out.
We also learn more about the politics of Dead Legends, which turns out to be far more than just a tournament to determine who is the best fighter. It’s more like a corporation that’s got its fingers in powerful pockets and is not afraid to use its influence to twist political outcomes to its favor. It certainly doesn’t help that Dead Legends has an army of martial arts warriors at its fingertips, but there’s infighting at all levels, leaving the tournament’s future in question.
Dead Legends II broadens the world of the tournament with a promise of lots more action and intrigue to come, especially with this volume’s final plot twist and cliffhanger. There are a few movies that I walk away from feeling energized and ready to kick some ass. It’s pretty impressive to discover that same feeling from reading a comic book like Dead Legends.