Pullbox Reviews: Dead End Kids #1

Dead End Kids, a new 3-issue miniseries coming this July from Frank Gogol, Nenad Cviticanin, and Sean Rinehart, the creative team behind 2018’s critical hit GRIEF.

“This story is about the very real traumas of childhood. It’s about four messed up kids with traumatic home lives and the stability they find in their friendships and what happens when that stability is torn away because one of them is murdered,” Gogol said.
Set in the late-90s, the coming-of-age murder mystery sees the three remaining kids — Murphy, Amanda, and Tank — trying to solve Ben’s murder while trying not to get killed themselves. And unlike a The Hardy Boys novel, not everyone makes it out alive.
“Time last year, I got really nostalgic for my childhood. Those simpler days playing outside with my friends and building forts in the woods. But then I started to remember everything else. The problems at home. My friend’s problems at home. We romanticize the past as being simpler, but I don’t know that it really was. I think about the things 13-year-old me lived through and there was nothing simple or easy about my childhood, and I think that’s the truth for a lot of people.”

Being a born and raised Wisconsin kid that graduated in the mid-’90s, the very first page of Dead End Kids grabbed me. We open on a snowy landscape that looks grey and bleak. If you’ve spent a February in the north wood of Wisconsin, you know the scene. It is a scene that I can really relate to, then I turn the page and see the body of a drowned 13-year old boy floating below a frozen lake. Nope. I am out of my element.

The title page shows the first verse to “The Kids Aren’t Alright” by the 90’s punk band The Offspring. I know this song well and it sets up the tone for the rest of the issue, and possibly the whole story. “How can one little street swallow so many lives?” The story time hops 24-hours before our drowned teen, whose name we learn is Ben, into a space with more color and rife with 90’s references. In fact, Gogol and Cviticanin work hard and fitting all the pop culture media references around the scene without ever bashing it into the dialog. The colorful room belongs to Amanda, whose name we learn by her mother screams for her. Amanda’s not happy her mother’s commanding holler, especially when she learns that it’s to come help prep the “bunker” for the coming Y2K crash (you kids can Google that if you have to). With all the teenage angst she can muster Amanda tells her mom, “I can’t. Not today.” and out the door, she goes.

Next, we meet Michael (aka Tank), a sports fan with a Hodor build. His entire introduction fits on one page and by the end of that page, Gogol and Cviticanin have you twisted up inside. Readers just want to give Tank a big hug. He’s a lonely kid who has to be reminded to take his medication (which we don’t see or know why he takes it) who sees his parents struggling to make ends meet while their son just wants to be seen. Cviticanin’s art is not super-high detail but shows depth and emotion that will grab your feels and twist them.

Next we meet Ben, we get one and a half words in his intro, and you with that you know that Ben is struggling with massive loss. The kind nobody fully bounces back from.

Intro to Murphy. A kid in the foster system who’s parents are trying to give him what they need, but may have tried to change his name to James. Or maybe James changed his name to Murphy. I don’t know. He’s in full on teenage rebellion and doesn’t want any pancakes.

The kids gather at their clubhouse, which looks like what every John Hughes and John Hughes knockoff movie would have you believe is a teenager clubhouse. Complete with bad furniture, posters, and a boombox (kids can look that up to if they have to) blasting a Blink 182 CD. Our heroes have a few beers and a few laughs as the celebrate Ben’s birthday. Everything is aces, that is until they leave and run into Bulmer. The late 90’s version of Biff Tannon from Back to the Future. It starts out as if Biff…er, Bulmer is legitimately looking to hang out with our heroes be things go from bad to worse when a Clint Eastwood “Get Off My Lawn” neighbor shows up.

Ben’s birthday ends with a scene that plays like the end of Stand By Me as our gang says our “See you tomorrow” Ben and Murphy have some more words the lets readers see the depth of their friendship. Open on the next morning, and Ben is dead. Amanda, Tank, and Murphy mourn their friend back at the club house but something just doesn’t feel right.

I will leave you to explore the rest of the mystery and the details that I left out.

Overall, I really liked Dead End Kids. Everything feels very familiar like you’ve seen this story before. You can feel the love of pop culture and see the troupes you’d expect to find in a teenage drama. Then you remember this is a Source Point Press comic and your wheels start to turn. You know things might not appear to be what they seem. Too much of the veil needs to be pulled back to make any kind of assumption, logical or otherwise. I personally can’t wait for issue two.

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