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Death Dealer #1
posted April 11, 2007
Nat Jones, Jay Fotos, Joshua Ortega
Image, comic book, 32 pages, March 2007, $3.99
I think you have to be of a certain age to have experienced the full power of Frank Frazetta's artwork over geeky souls. Frazetta's book and magazine cover heyday and the period after that in which his work slowly worked its way into the middle states came at exactly that time when fantasy and pulp visual art existed in a kind of disreputable junk culture underground. And in roughly the same manner duck comics fans knew Carl Barks as the good artist before learning his name, a lot of fantasy fans knew Frank Frazetta by the look of his work before they learned his name (although once you heard it, you weren't likely to forget it; it's a great-sounding name). When I was kid and would go to the local flea market to dig around for comic books, one vendor sold nothing but cut out magazine Frazetta imagery in black picture frames. He always cleaned up, too.
It makes a certain amount of sense that someone would want to make comics out of such strong imagery, both its general type and the specific story hinted at in the famous picture with which this comic shares the title. People have tried in the past, in an even more unforgiving market than what we have now. The team behind Image's new effort sure give it the old college try. They get points for hewing to the older, pulpier types of fantasy rather than trying to stuff the Death Dealer visual into one of the more proper, alternative civilization-obsessed English fantasies. This first issue seems to present a kind of functional purpose for the character, and something of a secret origin, with a lot of blood and despair and last stands and dim, dim, lights. In the end, I think the hook is more hindrance than help. The Frazetta comic that exists in my head is going to be a lot more effective and powerful than anything these guys do, and while I think the effort is honest and the feel for the material genuine, I'm not sure there's enough in the way of intellectual rigor that's going to distinguish this book in the long run from all the fantasy material that's been made or come back to light since the days you could sell framed magazine glimpses into such worlds for $10 each.