Reaching Warp Speed: Without getting too academic here, or even up my own keister, what is the role of storytelling? To make us laugh or cry? Connect us with the rest of the humanity (or our own sense of it)? Offer us a (if only momentarily) a respite from the world? All of that is certainly true, but all of the best stories (across every medium) share one thing in common: they bring you into their world. (That, and maybe some element of The Beatles.) Once you’re inside, you live the story with gusto, experiencing the highs and lows as if they were your own, and the idea of “fiction” never computes as you save the world from aliens or rob a 25th century bank. That’s certainly the case for We Only Find Them When They’re Dead: it’s a 26-ish-page chance to live as a space-faring pirate searching for god meat and absolution.
Shakespeace in Space: Issue #1 kicked off by expertly laying out the series, which follows the crew of the Vihaan II, including Captain Georges Malik, as they embark upon a mission to find a still-living god (and not the dead ones they’ve always harvested). Issue #2, then, expanded the world a bit, and we started to understand Malik’s connection with his crew (including the young Jason) and Richter, a government agent/possible antagonist type trailing the ship into deep space (and seeking vengeance on the rugged captain).
With issue #3, we get more of an idea as to why Richter has it out so bad for Malik: a shared tragedy in the form of huge accident that took place years ago. It’s that burning desire for Malik’s head that sends Richter and the Vihaan II in a kind of warp speed dog fight, and issue #3 plays out the crew’s attempts to defeat their pursuer and get back to the mission at hand. Without spoiling too much, both the battle and the “find a living god” mission crash head-on, intensifying the narrative for issue #4 and beyond. While the previous two issues were jam-packed with space goodness, this felt like a significant set-piece of massive action without forgoing some of the essential character development.
A Family’s Tale: This was the first time in the series thus far that I got any real sense of Captain Malik. That’s not to say he hasn’t been central to the storyline in issues one and two — just that he’s mostly been focused on the mission and engrained in the actual narrative. But as issue #3 extends the book’s world, we get insights from characters courtesy of Quartermaster Wirth, who draws out the Richter-Malik connection as one of shared grief and misery. By understanding Malik in this way, through his crew and in the context of his status as captain, writer Al Ewing inevitably contextualizes him as a brave leader and captain. By doing so, he’s also able to connect him to this life and this ship and this crew in a way to maximize the emotional potential and help inform how some of the larger story develops. It’s about making the stories and its actors feel aligned in a way to provide us with everything we’d need or want to know.
I mentioned in my review of issue #2 that this story is akin to a classic pirate’s tale (huge adventure, rugged heroes, etc.); that remains the case, and this issue only further develops Malik in this tradition while spinning in new layers of emotion, drama, and tension via the Malik-Richter dynamic. The more rich these configurations are, the more lively and deliberate folks like Jason and Wirth then feel by comparison. In a book with such a massive scale, it’s the tiny human connections that crackle with the most energy.
Sitcom Spin?: I was thinking about this for a while, but this issue feels like a bottle episode. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a TV trope where characters are locked in one place and they have to sort out their issues in this bubble of forced intimacy. Only, instead of a locked office, it’s in the perilous place between the cold empty vacuum of space and the molten hot danger of flying around near-light-speed. Regardless of the confines, the crew are forced to work out how they should respond to Richter, even if some of that process is painful or uncomfortable.
While I won’t spoil their eventual plan, it does inform a lot about how this crew works, their commitment to each other, how they view their efforts, and even their perceptions of folks on the outside (a la Richter). It accomplishes everything a bottle episode should: we see these people in a new way, and (for better or worse) these insights are going to inform our connections down the road. Not all understandings are that morally forthcoming, but they nonetheless matter for such a vibrant and dedicated story.
God, Space Rules: Among my love for Ewing’s narrative wizardry, I have endlessly praised the artwork of Simone Di Meo (not to mention the gorgeous colors of Mariasara Miotti). The end result has been among the most gorgeous depictions of space I’ve ever seen. It’s all sort of like the love-child of Alien and 2001: A Space Odyssey, mixed with rich neon tones from a Daft Punk music video. In issue #3, though, the art team really gets a chance to flourish with all of the intergalactic action. Even amid warp speeds, they maintain a focus on tight, intimate shots and dynamic angles that really play up the humanity permeating this story. There’s a kind of overt intensity that feels almost physically overwhelming, and that speaks to the larger feeling you’d might associate with space travel. Plus, it feels like the kind of approach to take if you wanted to soften up the reader for a rich narrative.
There’s a few pages in #3, especially, where we see a god, and it’s here we truly understand the sheer scale of these beings. It’s enough to make you feel small, powerless — as if you’re lost amid a universe you have zero control. The art doesn’t just enhance the story, but it spins in new feelings and sensations that no amount of dialogue or narrative ever could provide. This art will smash your heart into carbon and send it into orbit. How you feel about it matters as much as the story’s larger movements to uplift or terrify.
Flying High: There’s a rather important revelation in the issue where Malik has a theory about why they only find dead gods (it may have something to do with alternate dimensions and the fabric of “reality,” perhaps). It’s a moment that feels so small amid the rush of space combat and giant deities, and yet it remains to deeply powerful given that scale. That’s We Only Find Them When They’re Dead to a tee: that greatest blow comes not with a barrage of swords but the dagger they slip under your emotional armor.
Even if #3 didn’t overwhelm you directly, you’ll undoubtedly feel these nicks and cuts as the rest of the story develops. Wherever this journey winds up, prepare to leave your heart and mind floating somewhere around Jupiter.
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