We are the stories we tell ourselves, no matter how stupid they are. This is but one of the sentiments that orbit the satire at the heart of Vault’s latest comic book series, Deadbox. Accompanying that brutally accurate idea is the thought these stories we collectively decide to support can also be cursed. Author Mark Russell and illustrator Benjamin Tiesma tap into the core stupidities of our national narrative, both foundational and current, and come up with a story that’s as funny as it is worrying.
Deadbox follows a woman called Penny who owns a convenience store in a dead-end town called Lost Turkey, a town that also worships freedom as if it were its own god. The town and its people poke fun at Libertarian ideals and conservative thought to create an environment that’s contradictory in every social facet of life. Lost Turkey’s only source of entertainment, as the book says, is a DVD machine that looks like one of those Redbox vending machines where people could rent movies and video games from.
Problem is, the movies in the machine are haunted. Some can only be found in that Lost Turkey’s rental machine and nowhere else. Russell and Tiesma hang on to this detail to create a kind of ‘story within a story’ dynamic where the movie becomes a reflection of the things that are happening in the town, or that are happening to it.
Russell has built quiet a body of work on his own brand of satire. His stories are aware of the commentary he’s putting forth, subtlety be damned in some cases. It makes his comics come off as meta a lot of the times and he’s largely successful at it. Deadbox is another notch on that belt in this regard.
As the story develops, we learn that Penny’s dad is seriously ill and that her choice to rent a movie from the machine will foretell some of the things that ail and will end up ailing the character. This is where Russell’s skill with creating parables and metaphors shines, turning the movie’s sci-fi story of humanity making first contact with an alien civilization into a contemplation on a people’s dreams of progress, what old age means, and how entitled we can come off as while settling in new places.
Lost Turkey itself is a combination of elements that make it a kind of conservative utopia guided by contradictions that celebrate unfettered freedoms regardless of consequence. Gun lovers, safety-defying bikers, and small town political leaders with delusions of grandeur populate this place and each one offers a chance to think about the backwardness of our political culture.
Tiesma’s art makes sure the script’s satire never skips a beat by leaning into caricature in his portrayal of the townspeople and the characters that appear in the story’s movie segments. Body language and panel transitions are imbued with a theatrical flair that rewards careful observation and close reading. The humor’s in the details in this one and Tiasma capitalizes on every chance he gets to dial it up.
Deadbox is an incredibly smart comic that finds a lot to be scared of in stupidity, but also a lot to laugh at. The first issue of the series stands on the strength of its sharp wit and its visual comedy. There’s a lot of stupid in the world right now and Deadbox is here to make fun of it.
Story: Mark Russell Art: Benjamin Tiesma,
Colors: Vladimir Popov, Letterer: Andworld Design
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Read and try not to do stupid things.
Vault provided Graphic Policy with a free copy of the comic for review