A Rocket Ride: Last month, I experienced a pleasure beyond my normal COVID-era constraints thanks to We Only Find Them When They’re Dead. Written by Al Ewing, and with (totes amazing) art by Simone Di Meo, this space epic follows a crew of salvagers who operate primarily in the “deceased gods the size of small cities” sector. More than the actual premise, it was the story (and, again, Di Meo’s bonkers artwork) that really made this series such a massive success after only one issue. So, the question begs, did issue #2 live up to the hype and further drive this story into deep space, or am I back to spending even more time disappointed in the universe at-large?
Drifting Beyond Jupiter: As it turns out, I’ve avoided 2020’s onslaught of bad vibes for the sweet shores of happiness. (For now, obvi.) Issue #2 is mostly another great slide forward, as we build toward the narrative arc promised in the actual title — why how come all the gods are dead and what’s that actually mean? That simple but obvious pivot launches the series into its nougaty core of storytelling, and with nary a second or molecule of space gas wasted.
The only real “downside,” then, is that issue #2 doesn’t have the same kind of explosive potential as #1, and there’s far less of that face-melting intensity that made #1 feel so dynamic. Still, do we need to be blown away every single issue? No, and by expertly controlling the ebb and flow, Ewing is making sure all these big, intergalactic moments land with the greatest impact. If issue #1 was the blastoff, then #2 is slow cruise to the edge of our solar system before things get weird and wild pronto.
Intergalactic Human Drama: The real goal of this issue, then, is to set the stage in another way: by demonstrating the story’s larger emotional connections and inherent interpersonal potential. Namely, and without spoiling too much, the connection between Captain Georges Malik and crew member Jason (and, quite interconnectedly, with Jason and his sister, who is apparently the team’s “coroner”). There’s also some really great back history established between Malik and Paula, who operates as like a pit crew member/security guard for these ships harvesting deceased deities, and that dynamic is central to what comes next for a major part of the story and its primary tension.
There was some of this in issue #1, but the emotional world-building is the true beating heart of #2. In a comic about salvaging dead gods, not having this “humanity” would then make all the moral and theological questions asked ring mostly hollow. But by creating a robust cast of characters, each with history but also real stakes at play, Ewing is driving home the fact that this is a story of people and their struggle for peace or value or prosperity above all else. It’s sort of impressive how he’s able to weave in so much nuanced drama and yet never distract from the blockbuster-esque ramifications of stadium-sized gods floating in space. Everything works in tandem, with a proper balance, and that only escalates everything accordingly.
Space Pirates, Ahoy!: This may seem silly, but another amazing thing about this book is that it’s basically pirate fiction. And I mean like, proper, 18th century storytelling as opposed to, say, Pirates of the Caribbean. So, expect lots of refurbished talks about engines and ship parts as if you were reading Moby Dick. But this isn’t just about some kind of accuracy; Ewing is connecting this story back to a robust tradition of similar stories (Treasure Island, The Dark Frigate, The Count of Monte Cristo, etc.)
So, why’s that matter at all? Because I think Ewing needs that tradition to properly orientate the reader in this massive world, and to create some kind of treasure map, as it were, for a niche genre that some people may think involves only gold coins, talking parrots, and figuring out how many “Rs” belong in the word “Arrrrrr.” It’s a kind of sub-genre that is rich with emotion, adventure, conflict, and the endless pursuit for freedom — and one that this book already feels like an organic and natural extension of. It’s not just “pirates in space,” but a way to refurbish certain pillars and ideas to make something that feels both classic and yet daring in its new approach.
The Glories Of Space Salvaging: As I have a few times already, I need to once more mention just how great Di Meo’s art remains. With the first issue, his efforts really set the stage for the sheer majesty and scope of this brave new universe. But as issue #2 unfolds, Di Meo’s work really takes on a new life entirely. There’s far less big space moments this time around, and a lot of the focus is on these quiet, interpersonal moments. Luckily, Di Meo kills it at that, too, and he applies the same kind of pacing, angles, coloring, etc. to really play up the sheer drama of it all.
Di Meo understands space (as in the distance between people/things but also the dark, scary void all around us) in a way that facilitates movement and energy like few other creators. He also manages to give characters, including those just having regular ol’ conversations, a sense of dynamic life that does wonders for keeping the reader fully engaged. When issue #2 does feature some space action (namely, in the back-half), it’s not only a great change of pace, but it also feels intimate and personal thanks to Di Meo’s ongoing choices. I’ve never been to space, but Di Meo captures the glory and disjointed feelings I’m sure accompanies a meander through the cosmos.
Maintain Warp, Ensign: Based on the ending to issue #2, we have a pretty solid idea of where the crew of the Vihaan II is headed. What happens when they get there, though, is a different beast entirely. Perhaps that’s why this series works so well right now: in deep age of uncertainty (ugh), it’s nice to both have a destination in mind and yet still be surprised by the human drama and action that awaits closer to the horizon. In that sense, We Only Find Them When They’re Dead may not be the only thing keeping me actively going (there’s always ribeye steaks and family), but it does make our unavoidable journey forward feel all the less daunting. Now, weigh anchor and hoist the mizzen!