Review: DCeased: Unkillables hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Tom Taylor’s DCeased was enjoyable, but his DCeased: Unkillables is freakin' incredible.

With a notably smaller canvas (three issues, remarkably conservative for mainstream comics), Unkillables offers a focused, ground-view DCeased tale that is all the more frightening for its emphasis on the (mostly) non-powered set. Its billing as “what the villains were doing during DCeased” doesn’t really do it justice, however; rather, what one should know is that this presents a team of Red Hood Jason Todd, alt-continuity Batgirl Cassandra Cain, Jim Gordon, Deathstroke, and Ravager Rose Wilson fighting zombies — if that doesn’t get your blood pumping, I don’t know what will. Taylor is on fire here, up to and including his careful architecture of the book’s twist ending.

Mention must also be made of artist Karl Mostert here, whose work looks like the second coming of Frank Quitely. Mostert draws the entire book, which in and of itself is a rare joy, but also he offers just the right mix of comedy, grotesquerie, and outright gore that this book needs. Those three factors are, I believe, staples of Taylor’s work (at least his non-continuity Injustice and DCeased work), and Mostert fits him exactly.

Again, the first DCeased was fine, but Unkillables — it crackles. This book is the surest sign yet that Taylor is ready for bigger things.

[Review contains spoilers]

Again, I think Unkillables' billing as a villains-eat-villains tale of what the baddies did during DCeased really underserves the book, making it sound like something less serious and dynamic than it is. Yes, a cadre of villains factors largely into the plot, but a fairer description focuses on the triumvirate of Jason Todd, Cassandra Cain, and Jim Gordon — three level-headed members of the Bat-family who aren’t hesitant to spill some blood when needed. (Heck, if Unkillables were simply Jim Gordon protecting the book’s house-full of orphans on his own, Walking Dead-style, that’d still be a must-buy book.) Given the cast, envisioning this book as something more like Suicide Squad (already in Taylor’s portfolio) than “Legion of Doom” is more correct; when it comes down to it, it’s not a particularly big gulp for pragmatic supervillains like Bane, Deadshot, and Deathstroke to fall in line under Gordon.

If DCeased was a zombies-by-way-of-DC-superheroes story, Unkillables does more resemble specifically a Night of the Living Dead or Walking Dead-type story, hard luck survivors trapped in a building surrounded by zombies and training themselves to fight back, even so far as a climactic escape by bus along a zombie-infested highway. The horror is heightened by the fact that plenty of the characters are “normal” and eminently kill-able (despite the title). One of Taylor’s conceits (getting admittedly more into the realm of the fantastical) is that the zombified Mirror Master can appear in any reflective surface — a mirror but also a window and so on; Taylor uses this to great horrific effect in that anyone can be suddenly snatched and disappeared from anywhere that Mirror Master can get in.

Indeed, as I mentioned, it is Cassandra Cain-as-Batgirl in this book; I misremember if we knew that she existed in Taylor’s DCeased-verse as of the first book, but there she is. One has to love Taylor’s “keep what you like, leave what you don’t, and there’s not enough room to explain” aesthetic, bringing in past-continuity characters like Black Lightning’s daughter Anissa “Thunder” Pierce and now Cassandra-as-Batgirl alongside (or at least in the same universe as) Superboy Jon Kent.

This “everyone fits” kind of thing was joyful back in Art Baltazar and Franco’s Tiny Titans, which could pull it off because it was a cartoon. It works here because again, in all the madness, one hardly has time for a round of, “How do I know you again?” Here at the end of the world, Taylor can do what he wants, and as such we have, for instance, Jim Gordon dropping his artifice of not knowing the (now mostly deceased) Bat-family’s identities within the book’s first few pages.

I’m very impressed with how Taylor scaffolds Unkillables third-act surprise, which is that just as everything seems lost, Mary Marvel emerges from the orphans' midsts to save the day. I did not see it coming, though in retrospect, as soon as Mary raises her head to say the magic words, the clues are obvious: the mention in the first issue that a super-powered girl rescued the orphans early on, and in the second issue that Billy Batson is among the infected people barricaded within the orphanage. Taylor sets these elements far enough apart that I didn’t make the connection, though again, as soon as Mary began to speak up, it all became clear. That’s the kind of adroit, simple-in-its-complexity storytelling that I adore; alongside with Taylor’s gripping story and Mostert’s stunning art, the successful surprise put Unkillables over the top for me.

DCeased begot Unkillables and it’s not a competition, and in scope these are two very different books. But Unkillables' small scale does fix some of DCeased’s problems — for one, the only continuity aberration here is Batgirl, so one is not continually distracted by Power Girl over here and Red Tornado over there. Further, I do find in both Injustice and DCeased that Taylor struggles to find characters' voices or portrays them how he wants them to be instead of how they are — Damian Wayne and Jon Kent playing video games, for instance — and there’s less opportunity for that in Unkillables by way of fewer characters. Neither in DCeased did artist Trevor Hairsine always get characters' costumes or even relative heights quite right, a problem Mostert doesn’t have in Unkillables at all. Mostert is probably the most capable artist I've seen Taylor paired with so far, which is to say I don't think Taylor is always given the most accomplished artists for his digital-first work.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase DCeased: Unkillables



DCeased: Unkillables is perhaps an exception to the DCeased line, not as superheroic as the original or the sequel series, Dead Planet. But it is, as far as the two collections published so far, the better one, and that suggests to me where DCeased should go and where Tom Taylor’s talents lie. I’m not sure how much more Unkillables-type material we’ll see among the ever-growing DCeased library, but this sure contributes to my growing excitement for Taylor’s Suicide Squad collection (even as, dare I bother mention, that’s already canceled before the first collection even emerges).

[Includes original and variant covers, promotional art, character designs, pencils, and cover inks]


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