Whether they’re being Rebirthed or Young Animaled, DC’s various superhero series may be getting all the attention; but they’re not all the publisher is putting out these days. Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love isn’t really a relaunch, and — somewhat refreshingly — it’s not a hip new take on a couple of decades-old concepts. Instead, writer Sarah Vaughn, artist Lan Medina, and colorist José Villarrubia have given a good old-fashioned ghost story a few tweaks and a superhero component, and produced one of the most entertaining first issues I’ve read in a while.
The Bozz Chronicles
By David Michelinie, Bret Blevins, and John Ridgway
Foreword by Brandon Graham
The Bozz Chronicles, which writer David Michelinie described to CBR as “sort of like Sherlock Holmes meets The X-Files,” is a double period piece: It’s set in Victorian London, so there’s that, but it’s also very noticeably a comic from the 1980s, in both style and sensibility.
In fact, you can’t get much more 1980s than this: Michelinie says, in the introduction to the Dover edition, that his initial inspiration for the comic was the movie ET. That was just the initial spark, though. Michelinie’s Bozz is a space alien who crashed to earth and can never return to his home, but that’s where the resemblance ends.
For one thing, Bozz (that’s a human approximation of his unpronounceable alien name) is suicidal. He’s a highly evolved being trapped in a world filled with inferior beings, and he’s never going back. When we first meet him, the noose is already around his neck, but he is rescued by working girl Amanda Flynn. Amanda is bringing a reluctant customer up to what she thinks is an abandoned loft when she finds Bozz; the john flees in terror, but Amanda, displaying that heart of gold that prostitutes are famous for, takes charge of Bozz and saves his life.
Somehow (details are kept to a minimum), Amanda and Bozz set up a detective agency which serves the dual purpose of making money (thus relieving Amanda of her former obligations) and keeping Bozz supplied with mysteries to solve. Boredom is deadly to him, and Amanda worries when the work runs dry, not because of the cash flow (well, maybe a little because of that) but because Bozz becomes despondent and suicidal without the distraction of solving mysteries.
Don’t bother thinking you can sleuth along with Bozz, though. These are not “fair play” mysteries where the reader knows as much as the detective; they all involve supernatural elements, often caused by humans meddling with the occult, and Bozz uses his rather eclectic powers (talking to animals, dowsing for electricity) to solve them.
Bozz is an almost perfect personification of depression. He’s huge, dominating the space around him, yet smooth and passive. He looks at the world through half-lidded eyes, only coming to life when presented with a puzzle to solve or a desperate situation to get out of. The other characters, by contrast, crackle with energy, and they are as over-the-top as Bozz is subdued. Amanda, whose spaghetti straps and low-cut dresses are not really true to the period, is the one who pushes the story along, getting the jobs, making the arrangements, and doing most of the talking (although her lower-class accent would be a much bigger impediment in the real Victorian London than it is in these stories). The third member of the team is Salem Hawkshaw, a consonant-droppin’, chili-cookin’ American who supplies the brawn, if very little brains. There’s also a sort of adjunct member, Inspector Colin Fitzroy, a wealthy member of the gentry who went to work at Scotland Yard, to his family’s dismay, so he could make a difference in the world.
Indeed, the idle and evil rich vs. the industrious and more-or-less virtuous poor is a theme that pops up in various ways in these stories, which fits in with their Dickensian setting; Michelinie even throws in some orphans for good measure. And there are plenty of surprises, including (not to spoil things too much) a Jimmy Hoffa reference and a 19th-century hippie commune.
Artists Bret Blevins (who drew five of the six stories) and John Ridgway (who illustrated the fourth story) do a splendid job of bringing the characters to life, including the supernatural aspects. Nonetheless, as I mentioned at the beginning of this review, this comic has a very 1980s look and feel, in the character designs, the paneling, and the coloring. That doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of reading it, but it does look very different from a modern graphic novel.
The Bozz Chronicles was intended to be an ongoing series, with each issue a complete story. It came out bimonthly, but there were only six issues (one year’s worth) before the project came to an untimely end. This collection throws in a few extras, including a foreword by Brandon Graham, new introductions by Michelinie and Blevins, an afterword by Ridgway, and some bonus cover art. With this collected edition, Dover has done a great job of making these stories accessible to a new audience, as well as longtime fans.
Forbidden Planet has some background and a preview here.