Start the adventure through a lifetime, with Josh Williamson and Riley Rossmo’s “Deathbed” #1. Read on for our review, which contains mild spoilers.
Written by Joshua Williamson
Illustrated by Riley Rossmo
Colored by Ivan Plascencia
Lettered by Deron Bennett
Myth, hack, sex symbol, stark raving lunatic-all of these words have been used to describe Antonio Luna, the world’s greatest living adventurer. Or at least he was until 20 years ago when he mysteriously vanished from the public eye. Now the ninety-year-old has returned and claims to be on his deathbed. Which is where Valentine Richards, a failed novelist turned reporter, comes in. Val is hired to travel to Luna’s remote castle home and uncover where the old star has been all these years, and just how much of what he says is actually true. But once Val starts to hear Luna’s tale, she finds herself entering into an insane world of psychedelic violence and explosive supernatural adventure. This brand-new series is a bold collaboration between Joshua Williamson (THE FLASH, FROSTBITE) and Riley Rossmo (THE BATMAN WHO LAUGHED). Before it’s through, they promise to take you to the Moon and back-and everywhere in between-plus some places that are totally off the map.
“Deathbed” #1, the latest series to be released through Vertigo, is all about the power of words. The book opens talking about how our first words are often a scream, but our last words could be ours to choose. This simple sentiment covers the entire lifespan of a person, bookending a human existence with important words. What of everything between life and death though? That, as central character Antonio Luna states, is the story of life, and he’s determined to get his story straight and protect it from his enemies.
To achieve this, he’s enlisted the help of Valentine Richards, something of a washout of a writer, whose story, unlike Luna’s, can be told across a double page spread, with six caption boxes and a dozen or so small panels, each a sad snapshot of an unfulfilled life. Her editor has handed her the Luna story on a plate, and it’s her last chance to make something of herself, except it’s not a gig she wants. Luna, despite proclaiming his story is the greatest of all time, is a nobody. Not even a Wikipedia page about him, so his deathbed confessions seem like vanity at best.
Writer Joshua Williamson is clearly building to something as the page count increases. The stereotypical storm is brewing (a trope not gone unnoticed by Val), and when it breaks, we’re left in no doubt as to the importance of Antonio Luna’s story. While he stresses the importance of words and of his story, it’s his actions that convince Val to accept his offer to journey into the heart of darkness and help him write his memoir.
If Williamson is keen to stress the importance of words, artist Riley Rossmo is on hand to express the importance of space. When we first meet Val, she’s on the toilet, a fitting metaphor for where her life is going. She’s the biggest thing on the page, the sum total of her life across two pages. As soon as she steps into Luna’s world, however, she’s dwarfed by everything around her. The mansion he lives in dominates the next page, then his ornate statues in the hallway, then the paintings – portraits of him throughout his life – that adorn the walls of the staircase. All of this is to scale his life in contrast to her own. He is a larger than life person, his surroundings and belongings are imposing enough without even meeting the man himself.
But then, when we finally see him in person, Luna is tiny. He’s a dying man, confined to his bed and attended to by physicians and maids. On the page, Rossmo depicts him as the smallest thing in the room, framed by larger people and by dialogue boxes, almost too distant to make out. This once great man is weak, vulnerable, small. Then you turn the page, and his outstretched hand is huge in the frame, extending away from us towards Val, the significance of his offer literally oversized to symbolically represent just how big of a moment this is for her.Continued below
Throughout the issue, Rossmo and colorist Ivan Plascencia play with shadows and framing. It’s no doubt a hint that there is more to this world than Val realizes, and that most of what surrounds her is dark and unseen. As she walks down the staircase, overshadowed by these huge portraits, our eyes aren’t immediately drawn to the foreground and the monsters that lurk in the darkness. They’re almost literally in our peripheries, and could easily be missed if you’re not looking. When you notice them, however, they’re hard to miss, and when the narrative storm reaches a crescendo and Val is exposed (in more ways than one) to the reality of her situation, it’s a moment that’s been built on by Rossmo’s excellent framing structure and focal layouts on the page.
By the end of “Deathbed” #1, we’re reminded again of the importance of story, as Antonio Luna fiercely proclaims that no one will mess with his. This phrasing and the associated dialogue boxes implies there’s something far more literal to what he’s saying, as though his life’s story has a tangible weight to it, like an object that someone could easily steal. Of course, to Val, this is very true. Even if she wrote up what she’d experienced that night, she’d have an amazing story, and his words have a very profound, physical effect on her life: she’d keep her job, perhaps get a promotion, a better feeling of self-worth, a better life. All because of words.
In “Deathbed,” Williamson presents us with two very different characters, both of which are people whose lives are defined by words and stories. In Luna’s case, his memoir is something valuable, craved by his enemies and important enough to kill for, to die for. For Val, her life and self-image have been largely defined by a successful story she wrote in fourth grade, a story so popular and well received that she’d never lived up to it since, but spent her whole life trying. Her self-worth has been crippled by her inability to write anything important or valuable. While the narrative states explicitly that this is a decision she’ll regret for a long time to come, these two people are destined to be important to each other.
“Deathbed” #1 is the promise of a wild ride, the prelude to an unpredictable adventure. Rossmo’s art is graphic and evocative, and Plascencia’s vibrant colors and contrasting blacks make this a rich and gorgeous book to look at. The page structures impress upon you this grand sense of scale, like this world is huge and unreal, much like the adventure Luna is about to take Val on, and Williamson’s script is fresh and frenetic, leaving you with no doubts that this story is an important one.
Final Verdict: 8.7 – A supernatural thrill-ride of a lifetime. Literally.