Struggling with the Deadside

Publisher: Valiant
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Pedro Andreo
Art Assist: Alvaro De Miguel
Colourist: Jordie Bellaire
Letterer: Clayton Cowles

So here we are at the climax of the Deadside War. I did wonder how it would all end as things seemed pretty hopeless last issue with only one option seemingly left. I have to say I was pleasantly impressed by the ultimate resolution. I don’t want to give it away but I really liked the way it resolved. It wasn’t entirely clean and neat but then it never could be. It also leaves the door nicely open to the Book Of Shadows (coming in July – mark your calendars) whilst still leaving a pretty satisfying conclusion.

To recap what’s going on I shall steal the summary from the start of this issue:

As Valiant’s mightiest heroes struggle in their fight against the Blights, Punk Mambo and the Abettors attempt to trap Deadside before she can truly begin her rampage.
They are unsuccessful, but Shadowman is able to whisk them into the Deadside to plot their next move: they’re going to exorcise Deadside.

So, the central issue is how on earth do you exorcise the Deadside? The solution is neatly elegant. You simply separate the flesh from the spirit. The Deadside is made flesh, she’s in our world, so the idea is to force the spirit of the Deadside back to the Deadside reality. It’s an idea that works really well. I very much liked the way it used the conceit of he Deadside’s plan against her. The writing through the previous issues has nicely utilised the nature of the Deadside and it’s great to see that on show again here.

It also means that we get scenes set in the Deadside reality. We’ve seen the blight bleed through into our world, it is humanity’s fault in many ways (something not lost on the reader in these turbulent times), and there’s a wonderful first page where we see our favourite Valiant heroes including Ninjak, Bloodshot and X-O Manowar. It is nice though to get the flipside, to see the actual Deadside again. My favourite design though is the temple of the godly pantheon. It’s so detailed, looking like it steps upward almost to infinity. It’s suitably imposing and creepy. It reminded me slightly of Aztec or Mayan temples. Very effective.

So too are the pantheon. It was very nice to see Baron Samedi again. I say nice though he’s not the sort you necessarily wish to trust, however bringing in the gods again seems appropriate. Right at the start of this run we saw Baron Samedi coming to give Jack his task to seal the Blights (and give us handy exposition). Now here at the end we see him again. The gods too have their part to play whether they want to or not. Their oath is to the Deadside but that doesn’t mean that they are powerless in the struggle, well more that their powers don’t have to wielded by them

This also gives the Abettors something to do. As characters they still aren’t hugely defined but they are individuals and they do have an important part to play. I would have liked to spend more time with them but the destruction of the world probably does take precedent. Nevertheless it’s good to have some other characters in the mix besides Jack and Punk Mambo. The latter very much shows her attitude off and that’s kind of why we love Punk Mambo, she just doesn’t care who she upsets.

Yet despite these other characters Jack is still the heart of this book. This is a Jack who has wisdom and ideas. It’s been good to see that Shadowman as a character has grown compared to earlier runs and even in this arc he has developed more understanding and become stronger in his convictions. The art really does help to show this confidence. The way he moves, the way he stands, it’s all about the confidence. There’s a lot of chaotic moments but through it all Jack is drawn as strong and assured.

There are some really excellent scenes of conflict. It’s a crazy melee that could be confusing but instead it’s compelling. There are close ups of different individual battles, one on one as the Abettors take on some of the Deadside’s minions. There’s magic and lightning swirling but those same effects also help define the different battles going on. It’s very clever composition and the colours on top really make the action pop.

Both of the dramatic splash pages work really well. There’s a lot of big impact moments and those are covered perfectly through the art. There are pages with only a few panels, letting the big action and blasts really feel big and effective. It draws the reader in nicely. The bright colouring, almost as if we’re being blinded by the light of the various powers on show also really helps to sell that.

It’s very much a book filled with action and character moments. While the battles taking place in the Deadside War are present throughout there’s also a lovely through line to the narrative that harks back to the start of this run. It’s very successful. The action is never at the expense of the story and that’s a really good and important balance.

I don’t want to say much more (this review is already close on 1000 words and really the short version is – excellent book, go read). I think the plot resolution really needs reading for yourself. I can say that there are some interesting twists and turns along the way. The pantheon of gods and the Abettors end up in an interesting scenario. I was very satisfied with the way things went and this was a very fitting end to what has been a pretty solid narrative with the Deadside War. It does feel like this run has had a lasting impact on Jack and that there will be repercussions. Really that’s what you want from a strong solo title and Shadowman certainly has all of that.

This really has been an excellent Shadowman run and I can’t wait to see where the character ends up next.

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