In the 1990s, Dead Eyes was a prolific stick-up man and hoodlum in Boston until he took down one last big score and disappeared. Nobody ever discovered the truth. He retired to be with the love of his life, but now he’s back in the mask to save her. No one—not his wife, the mafia, or the cops—is happy that he’s out of retirement.
From John McCrea, the artist and co-creator of Mythic and Hitman, and Gerry Duggan, the writer of Analog and Deadpool, comes the action, comedy, and drama of Martin Dobbs, a.k.a. Dead Eyes, the man who says he’s descended from one of the original gangs of New York City.
Making comics is a funny business. In 1850’s New York, there was an Irish street gang called The Dead Rabbits. Dead, like “very,” as in “dead sexy.” Rabbit as a phonetic corruption of “ráibéad,” which is Irish Gaelic for “man to be feared.”
Basically, these dudes went around calling themselves the Irish period equivalent of The BMFs. Gerry Duggan and John McCrea started making this Dead Eyes comic in 2018, except it was called Dead Rabbit, in homage to the Five Points’ gang.
Then some bar in New York, also called The Dead Rabbit, served Image Comics with a Cease and Desist after the second issue, because their drink menu looks like a comic book. You can’t make this stuff up. Anyway, the book was good, so after a mandatory recall and a slick redesign, Dead Rabbit is back. Except, now he goes by Dead Eyes. That’ll do.
Dead Eyes Volume 1 opens up with a nostalgic true crime piece on the local news that features the local antihero criminal Dead Eyes, who’s been MIA since his last big heist in the nineties. A thug, sure, but the dude had panache. Anyway, Dead Eyes has been incommunicado these last decades and public opinion is that he’s living off the fat of his last big heist. Not quite.
There is no 401(k) or retirement medical plan for career criminals. And, since his wife has complex medical issues, whatever he did manage to squirrel away is long gone. The most prolific criminal in Boston’s history is dead broke, pulling shifts for a certain American multinational retail corporation as a greeter.
Wife, crappy job, raging hemorrhoids… It’s the American Dream.
Then, something happens that gives Dead Eyes an opportunity to scratch the itch and there’s no turning back. Except, while the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak and many years out of practice. And that won’t even be Martin’s biggest problem.
Gerry Duggan pulls a slick little trick with that news report, basically giving all the backstory we need to kick this pig, without beating anyone over the head with clunky exposition. Petty thug, cool costume, pulled a big score against a mafia boss, got away with a few million, hasn’t been seen since. Gotcha.
Popping around bars, homes, and that mob boss’ office while the TV is airing the program is near genius. Easily establishes for the reader exactly how this Dead Eyes fella is perceived in the community at large. Everyone seems to have a Dead Eyes story. Some are funny. I don’t think that mob guy likes him much, though.
And anyone who can’t relate to that first glimpse of Martin’s current, er, situation, hasn’t hit middle age quite yet. Reality is a mother, and it’s caught up to Dead Eyes.
Art by McCrea and Mike Spicer is a brilliant fit for Dead Eyes.
McCrea’s action sequences are something else. What does it look like when a goon who’s high on nitrous gets kicked in the stones? That one facial contortion shows both the euphoric effects of the drug and the excruciating pain of blunt testicular trauma, right before half the guy’s teeth are laid out across the floor with a little help from an oxygen tank. Hospitals are fun places to stage fights. As chaotic as that sounds, every fight scene in this book is well planned, intuitively laid out, and easy to track.
Spicer’s color choices evolve in lockstep with the script. The book starts out with a trash polka palette (deep blacks with greyscale and metered splashes of red) in flashback sequences that starkly contrasts the dull, bleak, washed out scenes in Martin and Megan’s home. In the hospital scenes, light sources are harsh and artificial. Everything about actual hospital lighting is odd. The light is harsh and artificial. Somehow, hospital darkness even feels hollow and forced. Spicer nails the lighting, with all the weird shadows and too bright flourescents.
Dead Eyes Volume 1 TP is extremely dark comedy, a violent crime noir that leans hard into mafia and antihero tropes. It’s also a love story and a buddy picture. All those themes really shouldn’t have space to breathe in the same space, but it all works amazingly well. If you’re looking for an intense, character driven series, this one’ll do.
Dead Eyes Volume 1 TP, collects chapters 1-4, Image Comics, releases 4th March 2020. Written by Gerry Duggan, art by John McCrea, color by Mike Spicer, letters by Joe Sabino, edited by Will Dennis.