Review: Deadman Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love #1

deadman1coverThe first of three issue prestige format miniseries, Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love #1 skillfully combines atmosphere and spooky stylings of classic Gothic stories with a nuanced romance subplot that happens to star the DC Universe’s most famous acrobat turned ghost/people possessor Boston Brand aka Deadman. Writer Sarah Vaughn (Rosy Press’ Ruined), artist Lan Medina (Fables), and colorist Jose Villarrubia (King Conan) uses the fifty-page length of Deadman #1 to construct a perfect haunted house setting that would make Guillermo del Toro or the old Hammer horror directors swoon. But there is substance behind the varied line lengths and almost painting style art of Medina and the ghostly whites and crimsons of Villarrubia as Vaughn gives her protagonist, Berenice, a complex personality. She loves the past and buying antiques, but she is also creeped out by the old mansion that her boyfriend Nathan inherited from his uncle and is currently writing a novel in.

Berenice also has genuine romantic feelings for and wants to keep Nathan and her friend Sam, a non-binary antiques dealer safe. She is also getting over an ex-girlfriend, and Deadman feels the intense pangs of their breakup when he possesses Berenice. Vaughn alternates narration between Deadman and Berenice offering different reactions to their surroundings as Deadman makes with the punching while Berenice plays the sleuth and investigates. She happens to be one of the few mortals that can see him. And along the way, they begin to bond as friends, and Berenice challenges him to rethink his usual practice of possessing people without permission. Their relationships is completely platonic, but this conversation is a great metaphor for the importance of enthusiastic consent in touching someone sexually or otherwise. But eventually, she comes to trust him and allows him to possess her if it means stopping the super creepy shadows that prevent him from leaving the mansion. Vaughn and Medina go old school horror and don’t show the comic’s monster yet, but shows its powerful effects, including giving Nathan migraines, keeping ghosts hostage in a corporeal space, and giving almost everyone bad vibes.

Lan Medina’s art and Jose Villarrubia’s colors are both melodramatic and subtle depending on the situation. The deadman1coverinterioropening pages are reminiscent of a frontispiece of a Victorian penny dreadful with its combination of architecture (especially window) porn, fine art, and a shrieking woman in a nightgown. Like Wuthering Heights or Northanger Abbey (albeit in a more parodic way), they and Vaughn make the Glencourt mansion a character of its own while keeping the setting’s time period ambiguous for quite some time thanks to Sam and Berenice’s love for all things vintage, including automobiles. Medina also neatly integrates the superhero genre into Deadman #1 through powerful poses when Deadman fights the equally powerful red and black shadows in a study in contrasts from Villarrubia. But a right hook or a nifty ghost power can’t heal a broken heart, homesickness, or an “It’s complicated” relationship status as Deadman’s attempt to fight physically all come up short.

But Medina can also tone down the Gothic, horror, and superhero bits of Deadman #1 and deliver on scenes where human relationships are front and center. A good example of this is a two-page sequence after Deadman attempts to bust out of Glencourt by possessing Berenice. Vaughn’s dialogue seems like that Sam and Berenice are going to talk about the strange phenomenon that just happened, but she and Medina pivot and turn to their relationship. Medina slows down with a couple panels of Berenice about to kiss Sam, but she ends up turning her back to them. Their body language goes from being close and intimate to more standoffish with no eye contact and arms crossed. Then, Medina goes for the romance comic staple that always breaks my (and Roy Lichtenstein’s) heart: the sad eyes. Sam and Berenice part in the rain, and we’re back to the moors, mansions, and inlaid chests of Gothic land after this beautiful human moment.

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Deadman #1 is a nearly flawless, Gothic romantic treat with a diverse cast of characters when it comes to both race, body type (Kudos to Medina.), and sexuality that has chills, thrills, and gorgeous scenery to go along with poignant themes of love, death, and the messiness of relationships. The incorporation of the character Deadman adds a touch of humor and the fantastic to these lofty themes while he also gets to learn more about humanity through his bond with Berenice.

Finally, Sarah Vaughn, Lan Medina, and Jose Villarrubia deserve to take a bow while “Wuthering Heights” by Kate Bush plays in the background as the comic ends with a twist that would make serial fiction writer turned English majors’ nightmare Charles Dickens nod with approval.

Story: Sarah Vaughn Art: Lan Medina Colors: Jose Villarrubia
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

3 comments

  • Not seeing enough talk about this series. Marvelous, moody work with a modern sensibility that recaptures what was so fun about these kinds of comics.

    • We actually have two reviews up today we liked it so much. I know the comic caught me off guard in how good it was. Considering the creative talent behind it, I shouldn’t have been surprised though. I’m going to guess the comic was massively under ordered. Hopefully folks figure out how good it was.