Here we go again: Jonathan Hickman and Ryan Bodenheim have deemed fit to grace us with another installment of their slow-trickling epic. And at this rate, we’ll all be either dying or dead before the series finally closes out. But those are tomorrow’s problems, I guess. For now, is this issue worth the wait?
The Dying and the Dead #5
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Illustrated by Ryan Bodenheim
Colored by Michael Garland
Lettered by Rus Wooton
“TO STEAL AN EMPIRE” When you’ve had everything taken from you, does it matter if they take a little more?
It’s hard not to feel a little underwhelmed by “The Dying and the Dead” #5.
That’s not to say it’s a poor issue. As always, Jonathan Hickman’s narrative- and design-sense make for a taut story wrapped in one of the sleekest-looking packages on the shelf. And Ryan Bodenheim’s mixing of relatively sparse panel compositions with attention to fine-lined detail creates a rhythm of visual storytelling that marches lockstep with the surgical precision that the Colonel and his men use to carry out the mission alluded to in the previous issue.
Or at least, the start of their mission.
See, “The Dying and the Dead” #5 catches up with the Colonel and his fellow paratroopers as they land on a Japanese beachhead late into WW2. And while the ensuing firefight as these men struggle to secure the enemy position on that beach is delivered impeccably, it takes up the entirety of the issue. This is a series deep with a rich mythology. There are – from what I can remember – lots of moving parts tumbling around in both past and present. Given the time spent waiting for #5 to finally come out, and considering how much time it will probably take until #6 does too, it’s hard not to feel things here are a little on the lean side, when all we really get is an initial beach landing. The weight doesn’t seem to balance out the wait.
Now, I’m not against a full-issue flashback, or even a full-issue flashing back to a single battle set against ruminations and philosophical musings on remembrance, reverence, futility and pragmatism in the context of war. I’ll eat that up all day if Bodenheim is drawing and Hickman is scoring the scene. “People have a knack for lionizin’ the ones they’ve lost. My father was no different” the Colonel narrates. “When he talked about my grandfather, reverence would reduce him to a whisper. Like a child in a too-empty church… Afraid that God might hear.”
Taken on it’s own, “The Dying and the Dead” #5 really is a fantastic issue. Ryan Bodenheim opens the issue with the stark image of a single soldier caught in free-fall just below the cloud line. It would be evocative of a descent into the underworld in plain black and white, but the fact Michael Garland stains his grey-washed coloring with the faintest hint of crimson is enough to induce goosebumps. But there’s also an odd serenity at the same time – a calm-before-the storm type moment, though that descriptor seems reductive – as white parachutes billow out and the soldiers just seem to hang in the sky over the following panels. It’s a short-lived moment, though, as Japanese rifles crack the silence soon after and Garland spills a deep red over the page.
There’s a sterile, matter-of-factness to Ryan Bodenheim’s depiction of war. It’s brutal and harsh, but never seems to revel in the buckets of gore which it easily could have. Hickman’s script doles out heaps of ultraviolence – flamethrowers peeling the flesh off enemy soldiers, tank treads grinding the skulls of the dead into the blood-soaked muck – but Bodenheim seems more concerned with plotting out an accurate portrayal of how four men could take the Japanese base than with lingering on any of the carnage.
In fact, it’s Bodenheim’s acuity for visual storytelling that carries “The Dying and the Dead” #5. While the Colonel’s narration could be mistaken for some kind of tone poem, Bodenheim tells the story of the beach assault with wordless efficiency. He’s careful to weave plotting threads into both the fore- and background of his panels – for example, when the focus is on the reaction of two characters showered with debris while hunkered down behind an outcrop of rock, we can see two of their allies sneak off to outflank the Japanese artillery.Continued below
Artistically, this book is something special. And when slotted into a thick volume collecting the entirety of the series, it might even be a stand-out sequence. But as a single course in a meal that’s being extremely drawn-out in the serving, things feel somewhat lacking. There’s very little in the way of character revelation or forward progress, narratively. As part of an epic that’s already being doled out at a snail’s pace, that fact sticks out considerably. It doesn’t exactly overwhelm everything that “The Dying and the Dead” #5 does right, but it does leave an underwhelming impression.
Final Verdict: 7.0 – Seriously, how long until #6 comes out?