Imagine if you were told that in 6 months you would be dead! Dealing with mortality and the end of ones life is never easy, and often everyone reacts differently to the prospect awakening desires to create, change and destroy that had previously had no outlet. Now imagine that as well as having 6 months to live, you are told you will be gifted with amazing powers beyond the scope of normal human ability. What would you do with great power but limited time? This is what Death Sentence, a collection of comic books collected in a hard back edition seeks to answer, with amazing artwork and a story that grabs hold of you.
The action follows graphic designer Verity, drug addicted rock star Weasel and the Russell Brand-a-like shock comedian Monty. All three of them have contracted the G+ virus, a sexually transmitted infection that destroys the host body within 6 months of catching it. However, before death the virus enhances, the strength, stamina and mental acuity of the infected as well as granting them intense powers that go beyond the skein of human ability. This virus makes infected hosts a target for government officials who see them as a threat, and also sidelined by society as their condition leaves them with a death sentence, but revered by people who seek the power for themselves even at the price of their lives.
The stories central premise serves as an interesting blend of different ideas. On the one hand the G+ virus serves as an analogue to the real HIV virus when it first emerged in the 1980s. However the granting of super powers to the central characters adds a new element of intrigue to the concept as it gives a trade off to the idea of an impending death by granting the chance to have more than what they would have had before. This then becomes a double edged sword, threatening to take something away at the cost of something they have which evokes a cruel sense of Karma. This fuels the story in a very real way and served as a spectacular foundation for the whole story.
As far as the characters go we were impressed by how much we grew to like them – even with their myriad flaws. Weasel’s self destructive attitude and Verity’s indignation at her G+ status grated after a while, and even the shocking antics of Monty also got a little old at times. However, we soldiered on as we began to see the brilliant yet flawed people in each panel and recognised that they were surprisingly true to life – albeit in a more extreme way. After all each of them is living with the fact they will die and the power to do something in the world and how each one reacts to it is very human, and in the case of one character, spectacularly inhuman.
Reading Death Sentence we were struck by the similarity to Watchmen which used costumed defenders as a medium to explore powerful and evocative ideas. This comic manages the same thing, though we were left a little in the dark at times as the intense violence of the actions playing out on the pages began to hit home. Indeed they hearkened to ultra violence on a grand scale which we intense and also horrifying as we saw it play out. To see this paired with tongue in cheek humour and humanity was shocking to say the least and created a powerful contrast that at times left us speechless. There were times when the imagery became uncomfortable however, pointing out that this is definitely not a series for the faint hearted.
Altogether we were impressed by Death Sentence. The artwork on offer is gorgeous and the story behind the pictures is evocative and enthralling and the themes explored were equally intense. While the violent and agonising imagery occasionally gave us the feeling of an acid trip we were shocked, appalled and left wanting more even as we came to the stories final bloody and brutal conclusion. If you are a fan of Watchmen you will be right at home with this comic.