We don’t see a lot of mob dramas in comics these days. There’s still the occasional popular and successful crime comic, but rarely do they bring the feeling of a classic mob movie. Dead Eyes brings the classic mob sentiments felt in movies like The Irishman into comic form with the backing of talented creators Gerry Duggan, John McCrea, Mike Spicer, and Joe Sabino. Together they bring classic vigilantism into the dirty mob narrative.
This story is trying to capitalize off a fairly niche genre, and Duggan and McCrea manage to do a lot of things well. Duggan establishes a solid legend for the character well and quickly. It’s easy to immediately buy into Dead Eyes’s accomplishments, his legendary status, all of the rumors that circulate about him in the normal and criminal worlds, and the reasons he has for giving it all up. Additionally, McCrea does a great job constructing a distinct identifying image for the character. The flatcap, morph suit, tuxedo ensemble is certainly recognizable and a lot of fun. Despite how brutal he is, Dead Eyes’ outfit makes him seem like the gentleman’s bank robber, which is an interesting dynamic to see at play.
In reality, the story isn’t anything new: a washed-up, retired criminal has run out of money and needs to get back into his old life that he kind of misses to care for the person he loves. We’ve seen it before, but Duggan, McCrea, Spicer, and Sabino do it well. Even though he’s a lifelong criminal, it isn’t long before you’re ride or die with Martin, largely due to the combination of circumstances Duggan sets up and the classic charm in how Martin reacts to them. McCrea’s artwork is dark and gritty as it should be. The fist fights aren’t fluffed up with technique or fighting choreography. Instead, it’s dirty street fighting with sloppy moves from both sides and each pulling any trick they can to win. McCrea adds plenty of extra scuff marks and lines to let you know what kind of world Martin is coming back into, and Spicer’s dark and dirty color palette does the same.
The creative team is also able to pull off a fair amount of humor. The situation Martin finds himself in is pretty serious, but occasionally even he steps back and laughs at the mess he’s found himself in. All of this makes Martin a likable guy, which is what Duggan and McCrea might be pushing a little too hard for. There are a lot of Robin Hood-esque elements and moments going on, and sometimes, it makes you feel like the creators want you to forget that this man also kills people.
One thing that does come through loud and clear, however, is the visual side of storytelling. McCrea constructs a brilliant rhythm with a predominantly 5-panel layout that often consists of an equally-sized grid of four panels interrupted or ended with a wide panel. It’s simple, but impossible to miss, and the pacing comes through like a well-composed march. The gutters are black and fairly thin, allowing McCrea to make great uses of shadows and street signs to make his own panels or panels with multiple focal points. There are some especially great car chases constructed that way.
It’s these small crafting elements that add up to making this book stand out as more than just another mob story or crime comic. Spicer’s blacks, browns, and dark greens let you know that this is not a situation you want to be in. Sabino’s unique captions let you know that Martin is never not Dead Eyes. Overall, Dead Eyes is a book largely propelled by superb character writing, well-paced action, and gritty tone. Be sure to grab this one.