REVIEW: Dead Beats Volume 2: London Calling Mostly Hits the Right Notes

A panel from Dead Beats Volume 2 featuring the Shoppekeeper, a Black woman vampire, walking over a crosswalk in line with ghostly representations of The Beatles in a recreation of the Abbey Road cover.

As I said way back in 2019—I’m a sucker for both horror and music. Dead Beats Volume 2: London Calling called my name, especially with its stunning Claudia Iannciello cover, featuring a Black vampire woman holding a french fry container full of fingers. How could I not pick it up?

Dead Beats Volume 2: London Calling

Edited by Joe Corallo and Eric Palicki
A Wave Blue World
September 22, 2021

The history of music is rife with horror stories—blues guitarist Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the devil to be a gifted musician, The Mars Volta famously consulted a cursed spirit board during the creation of The Bedlam in Goliath, and numerous musicians who’ve died during the height of their careers are said to still walk the earth. It’s this spirit (ha!) that haunts the pages of Dead Beats, this time infused with the culture, sound, and history of England.

The cover to Dead Beats Volume 2, showing a Black woman vampire holding an umbrella with a red underside in one hand and a french fry container with human fingers inside in the other. She wears a spiked leather jacket and is standing against a black and white image of a London street. Text reads, "Dead Beats: London Calling. A musical horror anthology."

The playful cover—gory, but fun!—sets the tone for the anthology, which contains a full spectrum of horror stories. Some lean hard into what’s scary to modern horror audiences, while some look backward toward folklore. Some feature human villains as very human threats, others are all about the supernatural. Some are scary, some are funny. But each one celebrates horror as it connects to music, whether by marrying horror and comedy, revisiting the classic story of the cursed instrument, or exploring the spiritual connection between a fan and a musician.

As an anthology, Dead Beats Volume 2: London Calling, has a variety of comics of varying quality. Some drew my eye right away and didn’t disappoint, others less so. But the anthology is actually stronger for that diversity—horror is a wide and varied genre, and the things that scare or intrigue me won’t do so for everybody. Some of the art that didn’t work for me will no doubt work for others, and it was actually nice to see an anthology united in theme but not art style, color choices, or tone.

With a name like London Calling, you’d expect a lot of punk references. And while they certainly were there—”No Future” by Nancy Collins, David Stoll, and Taylor Esposito, for example, which follows a suicidal musician haunted by the spirit of Sid Vicious—there’s stories harkening back to pre-industrial Britain, the late 1800s, and more. Jazz, folk music, and plenty of other genres make appearances, making the anthology feel more like a true showcase of horror and music as a whole rather than within a specific time period or genre.

A panel from "The First Violin," showing two characters, one masculine in a shirt, pants, and boots, and one in a flowing princess gown, near a tree. The feminine figure sits at the base of the tree while the masculine figure plays a flute, which fills the air with music notes. A narration box reads, "Many years later." Dialog spoken by the princess figure reads, "Your music sounds so sweet, Demetrius. I could listen to you play all day."

“The First Violin” by Tyler Chin-Tanner, Morgan Beem, and Pete Carlsson was one of my standout favorites. The story features beautiful watercolors by Beem in a dreamlike far-off fantasy kingdom where a love story and a faerie curse intersect to disastrous consequences. I’m always partial to faerie curses, but Chin-Tanner, Beem, and Carlsson excel at creating a dramatic arc so well-developed that despite its short length, I’d become so invested in the love story that I’d forgotten about the faerie curse. It isn’t that it’s dropped—it’s that the art and writing drew me into the charming romance to such a degree that, for a moment, I forgot I was reading a horror anthology. Until, like the characters, I was brutally (and effectively!) reminded.

Dead Beats Volume 2 features a number of wonderful artists, but some of my favorites were the aforementioned Morgan Beem, Taylor Keith’s thin and delicate linework in “Red Cello,” and Ronnie Garcia’s exquisite horrified faces in “(Please Don’t) Stop the Music.” Jamal Igle and Steve Walker’s “She Only Wanted Me… For My Fangs!” also stands out, with its artwork and coloring invoking pulp horror comics with bold darks alongside pastels and blocky text boxes, but with a delightfully modern sense of humor.

Four panels from "She Only Wanted Me... For My fangs!" In the first, a blonde man kisses the chest of a red-haired woman. The woman says, "Oh, yes..." A narration box reads, "The night was going well, I thought." In the second panel, the woman pulls her hair back to reveal her neck. A narration box reads, "I was about to indulge..." The third and fourth panels are one image split in two. The vampire prepares to bite the woman's neck with visible fangs. Narration boxes read, "Then, I saw it... just sitting there, out of the corner of my eye..."

Though the diversity of stories is one of the anthology’s strengths, I would have liked just a little more cohesion, or perhaps a different system of organization. It sometimes felt like a playlist on shuffle rather than a carefully considered mixtape; multiple stories about haunted, cursed, or otherwise deadly instruments blended together thanks to proximity, and, generally speaking, the front half of the anthology felt stronger than the back half. A little reorganization would have done wonders for keeping me interested all the way through. Instead the second half of the anthology grabbed significantly less of my attention than the first.

As with any anthology, there were clear favorites—”One More Broken Thing” by Jeremy Lambert, Lydia Collins, Jey Barnes, and Micah Myers and “The Recording Studio” by Juan Ponce and Jose E Cardenas—alongside some stories I simply didn’t get. I read Quade Reed, Ronnie Garcia, and Micah Myers’ “(Please Don’t) Stop the Music” several times, but found myself confused after every read—I loved the artwork and the attention paid to disability rights, but the direction of the story itself confused me. Others, like “Something in the Water” by Yona Harvey, Raymont Youngblood, and Micah Myers, or Kyler Clodfelter, Bruno Furlani, and Matt Krotzer’s “A Riff’s Call,” had stories I might have liked, but the art style didn’t work for me, distracting from the story.

But despite the lack of evenness, it’s a fun and exciting package of stories showcasing how much diversity there is within the horror comics field—let alone the music horror comics field.

Melissa Brinks

Melissa Brinks

Melissa Brinks is a freelance writer and co-creator of the Fake Geek Girls podcast. She has an affinity for cats, cooking, gardening, and investing copious hours of her life in fictional worlds of all kinds.

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