With a new volume of Monty Nero and Mike Dowling’s Death Sentence having just been funded on Kickstarter we look back at their world of superhero sex, drugs and rock n roll.Trying to come up with something fresh in the genre of superheroes is not easy, but this cult classic manages to do just that. But what is it that makes Death Sentence so unique in this most over populated of genres?
Publisher: Titan Comics
Writer: Monty Nero
Artist: Mike Dowling
Price: £16.99 from Amazon.co.uk
First of all it’s the concept: superpowers are treated like a sexually transmitted disease. There are no radiated spiders or gamma bombs, powers are as much an affliction as they are a reward and this is amplified by the fact those with the G+ virus have only six months to live. It heightens the characters’ reactions to their powers, making them a blessing and a curse and it sees those afflicted with the disease react with unsuspected and unpredictable results.
It’s this reaction to these powers which is the core to the story as we meet three individuals whose powers manifest in different ways and as such they react very differently. First up is comedian David Montgomery )aka Monty) whose mind control powers see him influence people for his own ends and as he gets more and extreme it sees him take on the mantle of maniacal villain with devastating results. Second up is Verity Fette, a struggling artist whose powers are off the scale and she must learn to manage them. And finally is Weasel, a junkie musician who is being mainpulated by his agents in order to use his powers for creative endeavours and make them money, yet things don’t manifest themselves accordingly. Inevitably all three end up colliding in order to save the day, but it is their journey to that point which makes Death Sentence such a compelling read.
Writer Nero doesn’t follow the traditional superhero origin story and instead sees his team of powered individuals struggle with their identity and in the case of Weasel and Verity, they are captured by the government and attempted to be used as part of a government sponsored cure program. There is no plan to don a cape and save the world and it is this which makes it feel so much more grounded. In contrast Monty, is the one who makes the most of his powers, and takes them to every extreme he possibly can on his road to supremacy, however there is no great plan which he is following, instead he has the addictive personality that sees him looking for the next high to top the last and so his behaviour becomes more and more erratic with devastating results.
And extreme it becomes as Death Sentence doesn’t hold back on the adult themes and it is packed with buckets of blood, violence, sex and very strong language. Not to mention a few WTF moments that you can’t believe they managed to get away with, mostly involving the royal family! While shock value isn’t always the recipe for success, in this instance it works to perfection and creates this gritty and crazy comic that perfectly synergises with the world of rock n roll which Nero’s characters inhabit.
The use of rock n roll characters and artists is no coincidence and gives the book a definite coolness to it, while allowing more free reign on some of the more risqué elements of the story. It also manages to capture that energy and grittiness that the best Mark Millar books have – especially book like The Ultimates, but more accurately The Authority – but it also has the intellectual punk rock pomp of Grant Morrison, and the course humour of Garth Ennis making it the quintessential 21st century British superhero book.
It’s not just the Monty Nero show though, as artist Mike Dowling also manages to push things to the extreme and he never holds back. While Martin Simmonds often gets a lot of the credit on Death Sentence for his work in the second volume, without Dowling’s ground work, he would never have been able to take things as far as he did! Dowling’s artwork has a strong hint of Bryan Hitch to it, which furthers the Ultimates compairsons, especially with the use of real life politicians as characters. There are much less epic rubble scenes though, but he does make the most of the crazy moments that Nero gives him and also gives the character their unique designs – especially Weasel’s Tank Girl-esque flight helmet and verity’s animal beanie.
When you combine all these elements together, it gives Death Sentence the polish of a mainstream Marvel book, but the grittiness of 2000 AD. This first volume is a visceral and enthralling read (that is most definitely for adults only) and the benchmark against which all other adult superhero books (from either side of the pond) should be measured.