Empire City… a metropolis of bright lights & gleaming steel… thrives under the protection of an Alliance of amazing heroes who protect the innocent and battle for truth and justice. Unknown to this league of super-beings, the city… indeed the world… has a cancer growing at its heart. A pantheon of ancient, cosmic gods is starting to awaken. These timeless forces of supernature once claimed dominion over a primordial Earth… and they have returned to reclaim what is theirs. Super-powered heroes- and villains- find themselves in a hopeless struggle against unimaginable horror to save the planet.
The unstoppable force of the Leviathan will collide with the immovable object of the world’s most powerful superheroes in an unflinching tale of ultimate horror and ultimate sacrifice.
Superheroes versus elder gods.
As a concept, Lovecraftian horror conjures images of many-eyed, gibbering horrors… lurking, tentacled things… unknown & unknowable shadowy forms that would break the mortal mind if fully seen. If you’re paying attention, you’ve seen the offspring of H.P. Lovecraft’s twisted works in all forms of media, from the unsettling world of the Upside Down in Stranger Things, to the more direct ties found in the outstanding series Lovecraft Country. The entertainment industry is full of the idea of inevitable invasion by Things That Should Not Be. What hasn’t really been done on a large scale, to the best of my knowledge, is pitting a horde of elder gods against a penultimate league of justice, Earth’s mightiest heroes dedicated to defending the defenseless, standing against the realms of madness.
To properly tell this kind of story, you’d need a writer who’s dabbled in both worlds… someone who has helmed flagship superhero titles, Uncanny X-Men for instance, and someone who’s become passingly familiar with penning horror, say something along the lines of Bone Parish or Harrow County. Do we know of any comic book writers that fit that bill?
Y’know what, I think we do!
Enter Cullen Bunn, the twisted mind behind titles such as those previously mentioned, as well as The Sixth Gun, Basilisk, and many more. Also, he’s worked on Marvel’s mighty mutants, and the very left of center Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe which featured just about every superhero you could reasonably name. With a solid background in both comic worlds, Bunn starts this foray into the Abyss with The Secret, a great stand in for the likes of the Phantom Stranger and Doctors Fate or Strange, in the middle of a mystic quest for answers. As these things so often do, what he finds threatens to shred his sanity to the degree that he literally closes off that part of his mind to isolate the very information he sought. The story starts to pick up and we’re introduced to other original characters who all manage to represent established heroes from all of the major publishers: the masked vigilante and dark avenger Devil-X; the aquatic Amazonian Queen Torpeda; Mother Nature, the vessel of Gaia and champion of the natural world; the cosmic powerhouse and champion of good Commander Comet.
As he’s establishing this world, a setting that’s original and still comfortably familiar, Bunn knows that the hallmark of this kind of horror is the inexorable creeping reveal. The opening volume of Beyond Mortal is mostly made up of pretty standard super heroics as the main characters deal with villainous plots and rampages. It’s in the details, the why’s that are revealed bit by bit during the action, that readers are steered toward the realization that there are things behind these battles for which our heroes are woefully unprepared. Bunn has it all carefully paced so that no single page turn shows too much, right up to the end of the 56-page opening issue where readers are given a massive double page splash full of the promise for gibbering horrors to come.
Providing the fodder for that dread is artist Danny Luckert, collaborator with Cullen Bunn on Regression, and the hand behind other horror titles, such as Red Mother & Haunted. The first thing that needs to be said for Luckert’s work is that there’s an insane eye for detail at work here. In the opening pages, he’s able to portray a world of superheroes that’s slightly skewed. Readers might be aware of the kind of book they’re getting into, but the horror elements of Beyond Mortal are approached tangentially at first, sliding in from the side when we’re not paying attention. Luckert’s panels are layered, often starting with a larger full-page image and then stacking smaller panels over the top. For other pages he uses a more traditional panel approach to lead the reader through a more confined, cramped setting. Then through a brilliant use of double page spreads Luckert opens the world up and hits us with a blitz of visual information to absorb. It’s a lot, and it’s a great way to drag readers into this world of lurking dread and impending disaster.
The last member on Team Mortal to leave a mark is Ed Dukeshire, the letterer by whom all others will be forever judged. Sure, there are many members of the lettering profession who perform their work with skill, but there aren’t as many who have done so as consistently as Dukeshire. If pressed, I could probably name a handful of letterers, but not many are going to come to mind as easily as the Duke. His work is always a showcase of text and dialogue that follows the flow of the story, never overshadowing or blocking the art. Dukeshire holds back on the embellishments for when it really counts, notably in sound effects that are integrated into the illustrations, adding to the intensity without getting in the way.
It might sound like I’m on the payroll here, but this is a creative team that’s firing on every cylinder there is, plus a couple they might have made up along the way. With many projects born of a crowd funding campaign, there’s often a sense of well, it’s gonna be months before we see the next installment. With Beyond Mortal it’s a feeling of anticipation. I don’t think I have any doubts to whether or not I’ll be backing volume 2.
Fans of genre mashups, readers of horror comics bringing something old… very, very old and foreboding… into the world with a different spin, aficionados of superbooks looking for a new secret war to be fought. You’re all included on my list of folks who should be looking to get their hands on this book. As of right now, I don’t have any info on distribution outside of the campaign (I just got my digital reward a couple days ago), but keep an eye out. This is a great must-read…
Final Score: 12/13