Wednesday, 7 May 2014

The New Deadwardians Review (Dan Abnett, INJ Culbard)

England in the early 20th century is a slightly different place to the Edwardian era we knew – most of the upper classes have taken “the cure” and become vampires while most of the lower classes are zombies, kept out of major cities like London by massive walls. In a world populated with the dead and undying, Chief Inspector George Suttle is faced with the bizarre homicide case of a young aristocrat – but who can kill the “Young”, as the vampires are known, and why?

I’m going to talk about some details that bothered me later in the review so if you don’t want to read spoilers because you’re thinking of reading it and you just want a yay or nay, my takeaway of The New Deadwardians is that it’s not a bad murder mystery which has some excellent art but is a bit overlong and a bit thin, plot-wise. If you enjoy supernatural police procedurals, it’s not bad and the set-up is certainly different, even if the protagonist is more than a bit bland. I didn’t love it but, considering the other titles Vertigo is currently offering, it’s up there as one of the better ones to read.

Ok, so: spoilers.

The set-up isn’t totally correct; there are vampires and there are zombies but there are also humans. Quite a few, in fact - they’re called the “Bright”. I really like Dan Abnett’s labelling of the different types of people in this world, “the Young”, “the Bright”, “the cure” – they feel like titles that perfectly belong to the post-Victorian era.

But much is made of Suttle being a redundant figure – a homicide detective in a world where homicides are so rare that he’s the last cop in that department. This makes sense if there are just zombies and vampires – but humans also exist. Humans can die. Are they saying that humans can’t die for some reason, or they don’t murder anymore? Or maybe Suttle and the rest of “the Young” don’t investigate human murders? If that’s the case, why even have a department if murder amongst the dead and undying is practically extinct? It’s a glaring error that’s never corrected and which stuck out for me the entire time I was reading this.

I also didn’t think much of our protagonist, Suttle. He’s a stoic, practical man with very little inner life or personality who goes through the motions in a dry, dull manner. He’s efficient and good at his job but that sort of person is often the worst person to cast as the lead in a dramatic story – there’s very little conflict to be had with his character. Occasionally a character emerges but for the most part he’s forgettable and boring.

Add to that, Suttle becomes the villain in the end! The antagonist behind the initial murder is a magician who, decades ago, cast a spell to resurrect Queen Vic’s dead hubby, Albert, but the spell went wrong and - poof! - zombies appeared! The magician was forced into doing this and killing off the snobby aristos was his revenge to make them pay for destroying the world. That doesn’t make the magician a villain in my mind – quite the opposite! And Suttle going along with the conspiracy at the end to pin it all on the magician and label him as a lone madman… yeah, he’s no hero, he’s just another failed cog in a broken machine.

So what was the point? A murder mystery set in a post-zombie-apocalypse world where those in power are totally corrupt and those charged with capturing the baddies are equally corrupt – so, all of the New Deadwardians are scum? Bit banal, but alright, I guess…

At eight issues, the already-thin plotline was stretched too far and should’ve been six issues at most, if not shorter. Abnett’s writing isn’t bad but too many issues – like the foray into the English countryside – could’ve easily been dropped as they added next to nothing to the story, besides showing how even more blighted old Blighty had become. INJ Culbard’s art is fantastic as it always is – lovely clear lines, great character designs that capture the era well, and an interestingly distorted London all serve to make this a visually brilliant book.

The New Deadwardians is an ok murder mystery that I enjoyed parts of and found other parts somewhat tedious. For all the space devoted to explaining this strange new world, a lot of it remained a mystery when it really shouldn’t have. I suppose you could do worse with other Vertigo titles but it’s still not a must-read.

The New Deadwardians

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