Love and Other Skirmishes in ‘Death Sentence London #3’

How do you outdo yourself, if you've already produced a masterpiece? Sometimes you succeed in a way that redefines success itself.

You keep reading Death Sentence: London #3, the issue you can purchase from today on, you’re going to come to a page. It’s that One Page. That One Page you’ve been looking for since you started reading comics, whether you realized it or not. On the surface, this Page is a tree in a forest of trees. But beneath? Well…

Death Sentence: London #3 picks up almost exactly where the last issue left off, with Verity’s (I guess I’m beginning to think of her as “Art Girl” all the time now) early, morning-after, let’s use her word and call it “yoga”. We’re not at that One Page, not yet. But these are the moments that make that One Page so incredibly rich.

Picture it. It’s early morning, you’ve woken in a bed you don’t recognize, next to a person you don’t recognize. There’s a sense of shame, maybe even regret. You sneak out of the bed, or you should. If you’re Verity, you step on one of the used condoms from last night’s festivities. Then try to yoga yourself free of it. Somewhere outside of this bedroom, you slowly begin to realize, there’s a nine-to-five waiting to swallow you back up.

It’s the third issue of the new Death Sentence series. It’s the successor title to a series we at PopMatters have always felt tabled cultural and geopolitical issues in a popular format, in much the same way Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and John Higgins’s seminal Watchmen did for the 20th century. A few months ago, it was too early to tell if Death Sentence: London, an ongoing series that follows in the wake of the original Death Sentence’s expansive, orgasmic climax, would be good in the same way that its precursor was. Three issues in is a good time for MontyNero and Martin Simmonds’s Death Sentence: London to be held to account.

With Verity 30 seconds away from her walk of shame, with the silent shuffle of her needing to get her clothes, stumbling through an ocean of used condoms, with her waking her lover while trying not to, who then complains about how different she looks in the morning light? She pays an insincere compliment to help facilitate a quick exit. This is a good enough place to begin.

So let’s begin with our earlier claim about likening Death Sentence: London to Watchmen. Who would have thought that comicbooks, and an entire alternate history (alternate but likely) of comicbook publishing could be used to construct an alternate history where Richard Nixon was still President in 1985? And that such an alternate history can be used to comment on the growing threat from an unabated nuclear arms race? No one really before the double-punch of Watchmen and Frank Miller, Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley’s The Dark Knight Returns.

What makes Death Sentence, what made original Death Sentence, a powerful 21st century version of the same was its unflinching look at the cultural politics of sex in the dying days of the 20th century. And its use of the superhero genre to examine that subject. What if, 100 percent guaranteed, you could become the victim of superpowers? I mean “victim” in the truest sense, what if getting your superpowers came with a death sentence of only six months left to live? What if your superpowers and your death sentence came by way of an STD?

Just a handful of years ago, when we saw a world set alight first with the Arab Spring, then street riots in Greece and London, then with Occupy Wall Street, MontyNero worked to imprint a comicbook consciousness on the 21st century. Whether he realized it or not. How do you better that? I didn’t think he could. How could he?

Until Death Sentence #3, and that One Page.

You won’t be able to understand the cultural wasteland our generation was born into. There’d be no context for you unless you were born in a very narrow window of time. Call it 1976 through 1982, just those six years and nothing outside. If you were turning 13 in 1993, just as a new world was taking hold, if you were just waking into the self that would eventually become your adult self, you lived in the certain knowledge that the rock ‘n’ roll hedonism of the ’70s and ’80s was impossible. This rock ‘n’ roll hedonism was your birthright, fed to you in a steady diet of media since you could watch TV. You now knew in your soul that you were part of a doomed generation. You were among the last of generations to know about it, first of generations to never experience it again — HIV changed everything.

So where do you go from there? You explain why the impeccable victor of original Death Sentence, the very mechanism by which the original miniseries was resolved, is likely to be trapped within its own B.S. This is what politicians like Bernie Sanders or Jeb Bush might refer to as “inherent dangers”. And that mechanism of triumph? Social media and the cultural underpinnings make it possible.

If you’re MontyNero or Martin Simmonds, you do a page like this one. We’ll pick this up in Friday’s Iconographies.

RATING 8 / 10