The Dead Hand Volume 1: Cold War Relics

The Dead Hand Volume 1: Cold War Relics
The Dead Hand graphic novel review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Image Comics - 978-1-53430-839-8
  • Release date: 2018
  • UPC: 9781534308398
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: yes
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no
  • CATEGORIES: Action Thriller

For some reason Image occasionally release a graphic novel where the story is complete in the single volume, yet still label it as a first volume. Why is this? Have their sophisticated marketing algorithms determined readers will collectively buy fewer copies if they’re not fooled into thinking they’re starting a series? Whatever the reason, The Dead Hand falls into that category, and anyone who likes an action thriller is missing out if they’ve passed it over.

Over the opening chapter Kyle Higgins and Stephen Mooney introduce us to Carter Carlson, a lifelong comics fan from the 1960s who couldn’t really become a superhero, so took the next best path by becoming a special forces agent in a distinctive costume. We learn of his special ops past and visit him in the present day where he’s the Sheriff of Mountain View. Once we’re used to man and location Higgins drops his bombshell. Beyond that, we learn Carter is ruthless and capable, but not without consideration, and he’s surrounded by others also with a past.

The plot demands an artist willing and capable of putting the work in to establish Mountain View and what goes on there, which needs to be from distance due to scale. The more the little details are believable, the more the bigger picture becomes credible, and the occasional minor glitch on Mooney’s part isn’t a problem when weighed against his great visual definition of how people are feeling and the effort put into locations.

It’s not the only secret, but the entire isolated community of Mountain View has been established to oversee a Cold War relic that’s still an immense danger, and is well capable of defending itself. An early question asked is what happened to all nuclear weapons once controlled by the Soviet Union, and The Dead Hand is the answer. As long as people have questions, though, it’s a concern. Higgins also drops a few glitches, particularly when it comes to British speech patterns and the endemic establishment racism of the 1980s makes it unthinkable that a government agency would select a Black man for a prestigious, highly-coveted assignment. These, though, are negligible in the face of the bigger picture. Higgins builds the plot well, has the minor threat of revelation hanging over everything, and the major threat of something far worse. It’s clever and its page-turning, and key is the generation gap, whether or not special forces agents are best placed to understand children. Higgins keeps the suspense going all the way through. Even several pages before the end most readers still won’t have a clue as to how things are likely to turn out, and how they do is consistent, elegant and simple. The Dead Hand is a real treat. Film, please.

Thanks to Woodrow Phoenix