‘Dead Vengeance’ Graphic Novel Review
written and drawn by Bill Morrison; inks by Keith Champagne
Dead Vengeance begins in 1940s Detroit at a carnival’s sideshow display of oddities. Here, the unthinkable happens; a human corpse becomes reanimated. The Frankenstein-like being awakes very confused thanks to his lack of recollection as to who he is or how he came to be a part of the carnival’s display. His need for answers prompts the quest to rediscover his identity and the memories he has lost, and what he finds reignites a violent desire for vengeance.
The reanimated being eventually finds out he is Johnny Dover, aka John Doe, a radio personality that had it out for Detroit’s infamous Purple Gang and the city’s corrupt mayor, Clarence Bowden. Unfortunately for both the Purple Gang and Mr. Bowden, Johnny’s disdain has not subsided, and he is well on his way to ruining their lives as they had ruined his in the years prior. There is not much Dead Vengeance does not touch upon: political scandal, murder, kidnapping, bootlegging, and prostitution. It all leads to an explosive, surprising ending.
As I stated in my review of Dead Vengeance #1, the artwork easily entices the eye. Every panel conveys the dark, gritty nature of the crime genre excellently. Not only that, but the illustrations carefully depict Johnny’s progression into a more violent and desperate man as well. His physical deterioration successfully highlights his single-mindedness as Johnny is literally stripped of the image of a man he once was and transforms into one reflective of death, which is very appropriate. After all, his obsession with taking down the mayor and the Purple Gang lead to the death of his career, several loved ones, and a child’s innocence.
Readers will surely become enamored with the art in this graphic novel, but they may find themselves somewhat frustrated by Dover’s actions. Ultimately, Johnny neglects the remaining good parts of his life because of his quest for personal justice, and it is not until the end of his hate-filled journey that he touches upon what should have motivated him all along: his daughter.
At the end of the comic, Johnny says, “I realize that I didn’t come to 1940 to get revenge or reclaim my fame and fortune. I came to save my little girl.” While it is a cute sentiment, John is actually the reason his daughter needed saving in the first place. Had he not been so adamant about confronting the men who caused his life to go into disarray, he would not have left his daughter in such a vulnerable state.
Yes, Johnny did have quite a few legal obstacles set in his path that separated him from his daughter, but one has to wonder why he did not try to use his police friend, Joe Preston, to either help clear his name legally, or perhaps help get vengeance within the prison system itself. Johnny essentially blinded himself to other possibilities, and in the end, he hurt himself and his daughter on a level that could have been avoided had he thought of her well-being first, and his selfish need for revenge second.
In fact, his selfishness caused casualties beyond those revolving around his career and family. It cost him someone who could have given him a renewed happiness, and it took away any chance he had at finding peace.
While John Dover has his shortcomings, this series certainly does not. The story is complex and engaging, while the art perfectly captures Johnny Dover’s devolving personality in a physical manifestation that readers will not soon forget. So, be sure to check out Dead Vengeance in its entirety when it is available on May 31st.