New To You Comics- Panopticon Murder Mystery In ‘Dead Inside Vol. 1’

by Brendan M. Allen

When COVID-19 brought the comics industry to a screeching halt, my colleague Tony Thornley and I decided to dive deep into our longboxes and collections to bring you a Comicon feature called New To You Comics. 
New comics are back, but we had so much fun with this thing, we decided to keep going. 
Tony and I have very different tastes in comics. Tony loves his shiny tights, super powers, and sci-fi. I tend to stick to horror, noir, and weird indies. Occasionally, our paths cross, but we, like most readers, tend to stay in our lanes.
We’re here to break up that pattern a little. Tony’s throwing some of his favorites my way, and I’m sending him some of mine. Every title we cover is brand new to one of us, and every stinking one of them is available on digital and mail order platforms, in case your local shop is still closed.
This week, we’re looking at Dead Inside Vol 1, by John Arcudi and Toni Fejzula.
Here’s what Dark Horse says about the book:
The Jail Crimes Division of the Sheriff’s Office in Mariposa County investigates crimes committed inside county jails. With a limited number of suspects who can’t escape, these are usually easy cases to solve–but not this one. As detective Linda Caruso gets closer to the heart of the case, she discovers uncomfortable truths about her friends, her job, and her community.

Brendan Allen: All right. Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Caruso is a broken down detective in a dead end position. A recent divorcée, she’s stuck in a cycle of alcohol and depression. Her inability to navigate social situations and office politics has shunted her into the Mariposa Jail Crimes Division. That usually means an incredibly dull day’s work, until she pulls an unsolvable murder/suicide at Bennett Penitentiary. 
Essentially a locked door murder mystery, this thing gets ridiculously intense very quickly. Thoughts?
Tony Thornley: I liked this one a LOT. It was like a mix of mid-90’s Vertigo with old EC Comics crime books, all with a modern sensibility. It wasn’t exactly fun, and it wasn’t much of a mystery, but I’ll say right here at the beginning, I would read this one again in a heartbeat.
Brendan: I really like the way this story plays out. John Arcudi delivers a ton of noir tropes in Caruso, but also makes her instantly relatable as a deeply flawed human. And then, as far as detective stories play out, this thing has enough red herrings to keep you guessing until the very end. 

Tony: Yeah, it’s a very modern noir. Comics tend to struggle doing mysteries but Arcudi is smart and writes this more as a crime book than a mystery novel. There is a mystery at the center of it, don’t get me wrong. But it doesn’t quite play as one, partly because Caruso is pushing so hard against being a detective. The interpersonal relationships and the conflicts coming out of them also play a big part in the story. I really dig it.
Brendan: Right. It does appeal to a broad range of readers within the crime genres. Police procedural, detective stories, mystery, noir, prison drama… There is a strong element of personal drama, though. The failed marriage, addiction, all the drama that comes up with her friends, and her issues with, like, every co-worker. 
Tony: Oh yeah, and the investigation is really interesting. It’s not at all the usual. This isn’t CSI or anything along those lines. The investigation side of the book is Caruso sort of stumbling through, getting lucky, then getting better at investigating. It’s like there’s a learning curve, and we’re experiencing it with her.

Brendan: I wasn’t initially crazy about the art. Toni Fezjula uses rough, heavy lines and deep textures, which keeps the reader slightly unsettled. I did come around to it by the second chapter or so. It’s a unique style that works really well with Arcudi’s script.
Tony: The art really struck me, and I think this is where the EC comparison jumps to mind. It’s very exaggerated and stylized, in an extremely scary way. Some scenes play out more like horror than anything else. It reminded me a bit of a mixture of Harvey Kurtzman and Kelley Jones. Andre May really did some great things with the colors over Fezjula’s line work too.
Brendan: The color really leans into that horror vibe. May shows great restraint with a muted palette, except in scenes where the ultra-violence pops up. Bright red blood jumps right out against backgrounds of dull brown and grey to shocking effect.
Tony: Or the prison jumpsuits! The orange suits leap off the page every time they show up. It really sets the inmates apart from the rest of the characters. Combined with Fezjula’s extreme exaggerated designs for them, it makes the inmates leap right off the page every time they move into the center of the action.

Brendan: This is a great book. It’s all the things I love about several subgenres of crime stories, wrapped up in one book. It’s as if CSI and Wentworth had a baby, who was raised by Columbo. I think you already said a few times, but where’d you land on Dead Inside?
Tony: Overall very solid and enjoyable book. It’s another one of those that I wish got at least a sequel arc or something like that.
Brendan: I think that’s actually one of the most solid compliments you give when I throw these things at you. What’s up next week from your queue?
Tony: We’re going to take our third trip into the Valiant Universe, and this time go back to the beginning. We’re going to cover Valiant’s flagship relaunch title from 2012- X-O Manowar by Robert Vendetti and Cary Nord!

Dead Inside Vol. 1, Dark Horse Comics, 15 August 2017. Written by John Arcudi, art by Toni Fezjula, color by Andre May, letters by Joe Sabino.
Some of your local shops have re-opened. As always, we’d like to ask that you first try to get these books at your local shop. This is a very uncertain time for owners, employees, and their families. Show some love for your community and friends by buying from your regular shop when possible and safe.
If your local comic store is still closed, not offering safe curbside pick up or mail order, or is out of stock on this title, you can find a digital copy at Comixology for $9 right here

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