Writer: Justin Jordan
Artist: Matteo Scalera
Release Date: December 11, 2013
Filthy, bleak, and unapologetically violent, Dead Body Road joins the ascending niche of cowboy noir that has grown haphazardly into the pop culture landscape within the past few decades. While the Westerns of Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone have always rested a few branches away from hardboiled crime in the genre family tree, Unforgiven, No Country For Old Men, and Breaking Bad permanently fused the two styles together beyond recognition. Blood-stained sand, aged leather, and sweat stains have all but replaced concrete jungles, pin-striped suits, and spilled martinis as the backdrop for modern crime entertainment. Yippie ki yay.
Dead Body Road isn’t particularly concerned with hiding its lineage. This debut issue opens with the grisly aftermath of a shootout between the police and bank robbers decked out in Walter White gas masks. The widower of a fallen policewoman embraces his inner Charles Bronson and vows vengeance. The narrative also features a soft-spoken torture artist named Fletcher Cobb who might have strayed from one of Cormac McCarthy’s notebooks. Even artist Matteo Scalera’s rugged, sand-blasted pages recall R.M. Guera and Jock’s work on Scalped, which probably bears the most influence on this book. It’s all incredibly familiar, if superficially handsome.
Noir only requires one rule to be noir, though: all characters must consistently make terrible decisions. Irreparable decisions. Decisions that tend to be solved through cruelty and disorder. At its most basic, noir is the myth of the zero sum game. At its best, noir is modern Shakespearean tragedy where a good writer bonds a flawed character to an audience, only to strip him or her from reality in the most violent way possible.
Justin Jordan’s script doesn’t stray from the first half of this equation. Anti-hero Gage openly admits that his planned vendetta to avenge his murdered wife is a super bad idea. He admits that his former deceased lover would definitely disapprove of his homicidal agenda. The biggest question, though, is would anyone really care if Gage either A. succeeded or B. received an involuntary trepanning from a Magnum? At this point, I personally would not. At this point, Gage is a ripped dude with gelled hair on a couch who says fewer words than a monk with Laryngitis taking a vow of silence.
If I read that Gage had found a positive pregnancy test and sobbed every time his wife went on patrol, I might empathize with his need to vivisect a cadre of career criminals. If I read that his wife planned annual trips to The Outer Banks to celebrate Gage’s birthday and got a boatload of guilty pleasure from Nicholas Sparks novels, I might care that she died and want her husband to vivisect a cadre of career criminals. But I have no clue what Gage or his wife were really like. They may have absolutely hated each other. At this point, this relationship is as 2-dimensional as the photos Gage sobs over (at least on the inside).
Dead Body Road is functional cowboy noir to a fault. If you like crime and you like eccentric people with tattoos and guns and knives and silly names, then this comic will shoot a geyser of dopamine through your soul. If you like motivation and humanity and reason and characterization, then this is simply the exposition of an action-obsessed book that might have some of that in the future. Or it might not.