You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but for the fourth issue of We Only Find Them When They’re Dead, I’d make an exception.
Right above the massive title, which stretches toward the viewer like the opening crawl to a Star Wars movie, is a tiny ship. Below it, a floating god. Few comics writers are as successful as Al Ewing at projecting the awesome power of cosmic destruction and, in this book, he has a perfect partner in illustrator Simone Di Meo, whose jagged panels and neon colors are key to spotlighting the crew of the Vihaan II and their rogue pursuer against the darkness of space — and the overwhelming presence of the divine.
The Vihaan II crew make their living by carving up the cadavers of dead gods, a desperate and uncertain enterprise at a time when resources are scarce and competition is stiff. Captain Georges Malik, the character Ewing has described in interviews as “an Ahab figure, of sorts,” convinces his crew to finally target a living god, which brings them to the outskirts of space and into conflict with Richter, a space cop who has her own complicated history with Malik’s family. Oh yeah, there’s also the matter of that living god, whose eyes finally open and throw everything into chaos.
The necessary pieces are in place for the sort of cosmic adventure Ewing has excelled at through books like Ultimates, Guardians of the Galaxy, and most recently, S.W.O.R.D., his interstellar addition to Marvel’s X-Men line. Ewing has gradually become one of Marvel’s most prolific writers and the niche he’s carved out as a dean of cosmic storytelling is clear here, but with a creator-owned work, he’s not accountable to the story demands of other creators. “There’s only so much you can do with that inside a shared fictional universe, though, since you have to leave the idea-space reasonably tidy for others,” Ewing told CBR over the summer. “We’ve got a lot of room to play here.
In Di Meo, Ewing has the perfect playmate. The Italian illustrator gives the book a signature look unlike most other books on the stands, with panels that crash at odd, diagonal angles befitting the randomness of space. Formerly a long-running artist on the Power Rangers franchise, Di Meo is especially skilled at drawing headgear and space equipment, which usually crowd the edges of his miniature panels. Full bodies are almost never shown; Di Meo’s art, which he colors in bright, neon tones with assistance from Mariasara Miotti, prioritizes the face. Whenever Di Meo uses a structured grid, as in the majestic flashback sequence that opens the issue, it injects a musical, almost elegiac, tone that complements Ewing’s script, which leans heavily on the poetic resonance of repetition.
Characters in We Only Find Them When They’re Dead are always repeating some kind of mantra: “The ship has ears” or “Eight bells, all’s well,” showing a brief window into the culture of Ewing and Di Meo’s world, which after four busy issues still remains ripe for exploration. This inaugural arc seems limited to Malik, his crew, and Richter, but in his CBR interview, Ewing hinted at a wider world for this book, noting that “life further inside the galaxy” is “more luxurious.” Ample time here is given to brother and sister team Jason and Ella Hauer, who have their own reasons for joining Malik’s team and varying loyalties to him, if not to each other. Their story too gestures toward the kind of economic anxiety and interpersonal family drama that he’s poignantly tackled in The Immortal Hulk.
Before Ewing reaches that point, he has to determine which—if any—of these characters makes it past this confrontation with Richter, who we learn has her own reasons to despise Malik. She isn’t just content with killing him, even if she evidently has no similar qualms with attacking members of his crew. “You don’t get to die on your terms,” she tells him at one point. At the edge of the universe, a floating god as their backdrop, Malik and Richter are positioned to have a most personal kind of confrontation. And the importance is not in who punches who—as we might expect in a mainstream superhero comic—but who lives to scavenge another day, guilty conscience and all.
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