Death Bed #1
What good is living the most exciting and adventurous life ever if no one knows about it?
Death Bed #1, the first issue of the new Vertigo series by writer Joshua Williamson and artist Riley Rossmo, with colors by Ivan Plascencia, explores this theme with a twisted blend of lurid and macabre visuals with bombastic storytelling that creates a unique comic experience while wrapping itself in familiar tropes from a myriad of genres.
Antonio Luna is a larger-than-life adventurer who has, inexplicably, stayed out of the public eye in any way. Hired by him to write his memoir is Valentine Richards, a down-on-her-luck ghostwriter who wants nothing more than to leave that behind and focus on her own creative writing, but just can’t afford it. Walking in entirely unaware of what’s in store for her, Richards meets him at his gothic mansion, attended by stereotypical servants and filled with gaudy relics of past adventures, including golden statues and giant painting showcasing Luna’s exploits. Luna himself is on his deathbed, surrounded by caregivers he accuses of just hanging around waiting for him to die. He wants his adventures memorialized, claiming it is “the greatest story of all time,” but Richards is skeptical; the man doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. But things are not at all as they seem, as the curtains (and blankets) are thrown back to reveal a twist (and genitals), and the grand new adventure of a man wanting to have his final words recorded for posterity, no matter how brutal and astounding the death that follows them may be.
Williamson’s story is, well, just bonkers, a gonzo mash-up of classic pulp and horror tropes with healthy dashes of millennial apathy, shock-value humor, and tongue-in-cheek absurdism. Luna is a mix of Doc Savage and Scrooge McDuck, a strapping, eccentric bajillionaire adventurer with enemies around every corner, bounding blissfully through the blood of Lovecraftian horrors and monstrous assassins as if he were on a stroll through the park. Richards is his polar opposite: exasperated and apathetic; held back from the life she wants; stuck in the same cycle, wanting to break out but too in her own way to do it. Paired together, these two vastly different characters should keep the forthcoming story fresh and enticing, as any good buddy comedy would (another genre this story is invoking).
But it’s impossible to talk about the success of this issue without talking about Riley Rossmo’s stunning art. Stylized and cartoonish, moody and sinister, it pairs fantastically with the tropes the story is employing, from the monsters creeping around the edges of the panels to Valentine’s curvy, voluptuous figure and descriptive body language to Antonio’s bodybuilder physique through his frenetic fighting (and genitals). He accomplishes so much in a relatively short amount of pages, particularly the double splash page introducing Valentine, which contain a series of small inset panels perfectly describing the cycle she’s stuck in, a complimentary narrative to Williamson’s narration that could stand on its own and still convey what it’s trying to. This is expert comic storytelling, and anyone unfamiliar with Rossmo’s work will be persuaded that he is a modern great with this issue. Colorist Ivan Plascencia’s contribution only enhances the finished product, perfectly balancing the tone of the story as it shifts from character study to suspense to explosive action. His use of contrasting warm and cool colors through the issue is masterful and gorgeous, drawing the reader into the page, enveloping them in the encroaching darkness.
It’s fantastic to see a book like this coming out from Vertigo, an imprint that, of late, has been a shadow of its former self. Could this book be part of a new wave of modern, mature (did I mention the genitals?) comics from DC’s once-legendary line? Here’s hoping, because, on its own, Death Bed may not yet be able to accomplish that task, but, accompanied by books of comparable quality, could be part of the vanguard of a new era for Vertigo. Regardless, it’s a great start, one Williamson, Rossmo and Plascencia should be proud of.