Review by Tony Keen
In a post-apocalyptic environment, a boy and his dog find a man, horribly disfigured, but alive. Who is he? No-one, including the eponymous Dead Man himself, knows, and so the boy, the dog and the Dead Man set off to find out.
The problem with discussing The Dead Man is that the main reason why it is so very good is because of a revelation towards the end of the story. It’s marvellously-handled, and comes completely out of nowhere, or at least did to the original readers when the story ran in 1989-1990 in 2000 AD, yet on rereading makes perfect sense. But it’s impossible to go any further into it without giving it away, and if you don’t know what it is, then it would be best for you to experience this as the writer intended, and arrive at the reveal as cold as possible. This may not be easy, though, as the introduction by Dave Thorpe, the back cover blurb of the original Titan collection, The Chronicles of Judge Dredd: The Dead Man, and even the series in which the Titan album is published all contrive to either strongly hint at, or in the case of the introduction outright tell you, what the reveal is. The cover of the 2009 Rebellion reprint, Tales of the Dead Man is rather more subtle.
Even if you do already know the twist, there’s much to enjoy in The Dead Man – indeed, there are some additional levels which can be savoured with full knowledge of what happens. Again, it’s impossible to say what those levels are without spoiling it, but it is possible to say that the story is replete with engaging homages to the American western, and to post-apocalyptic variants on that theme such as L.Q. Jones’ 1975 movie A Boy and His Dog. John Ridgway’s atmospheric artwork is amongst the best he’s produced, and demonstrates that black-and-white is his best medium. The action sequences, especially those involving battles against what are effectively cavemen, are effectively choreographed, such that the reader can almost hear in their head the gunshots depicted.
The Dead Man is one of the best stories ever to have been published in 2000 AD. You should read it.