Death or Glory is a comic that presents two tracks to readers in its first issue. There is a fast-paced chase comic that enjoys a fair bit of gunplay and heist elements as well. It is an action thriller that knows all of the most important beats to keep readers at the edge of their seats. There is also a semi-futuristic world constructed around modern politics. It offers romanticized notions of heroes, villains, and freedom that play to popular rhetoric from radio waves today. The former succeeds where the latter falters. The result is not so much a comic at war with itself, but one in which the strengths essentially play tow truck to the weaknesses.
The chase comic is simply too good to not discuss first. When tires are squealing on the road and bullets are flying, there are few better contemporary examples of a complete creative team working in tandem. Bengal is not new to comics, with existing credits already at both Marvel and DC, but Death or Glory feels like his debutante ball as he clearly transforms into a force in comics society. Wide panels help to pace the car chase and gunfight that serve as the climax of this debut. They carefully allow the reader to drop further and further into the action before forcing them to turn the page as quickly as possible. Bengal’s colors help to play up the velocity of these sequences as well with blurred tail lights guiding eyes and implying motion simultaneously. Remender proves himself to be the rare writer in modern comics who knows exactly when to get out of the way. Pacing for page turns is perfect, but dialogue is kept to a minimum so the action can sing. What few words that are present at the height of tension are impeccably placed by Rus Wooton to match the visual flow of the sequence.
It really should not be understated how effective this car chase is. The sequence that occurs in the back half of Death or Glory is one of the most difficult types to pull of in comics. Bengal reaches a bar set by Matteo Scalera in Dead Body Road and Tradd Moore in All-New Ghost Rider here. All of these artists effectively convey the inertia and excitement of a chase, each with their own unique set of tools. Bengal keeps readers close to the ground, only moving to a bird’s eye view to reorient the action. His storytelling effects are crystalline, and the resulting sequence is reason enough to check out this first issue.
The plot engine pushing this sequence forward is not quite the well-tuned piece of technology used by Glory though. Everyone outside of the main character falls into the realm of caricature. Her ex-husband is a scoundrel available in almost every “woman on a mission” style of story, vain, hungry for power and money, and with seemingly no redeeming qualities. This applies to the heroes and villains of the piece, as even the likable father figures in Glory’s life fits types that have been circulating since the 1970s. The only difference here is that a splash of modern political rhetoric has been used to cover their frames. Villains use the phrase “cuck” while heroes speak about freedom from absurd insurance costs.
In spite of this political framing, Death or Glory doesn’t present a strong ethos of its own. The “live free or die” ethos on one side is lovingly derided by Glory, while the barely distinguishable beliefs of crime lords are shown to be bad primarily because they’re not nice and relate to the verbiage of Donald Trump. If you were to ask what Glory stands for, it would be impossible to answer based on the text. This is a comic that yearns to be political, but possesses no clear comprehension of what its politics might be. The best reason to keep following her story is that it is simply fun to watch.
And so every reader’s mileage may vary, based on what attracts their attention and how willing they may be to overlook the obvious flaws in this script. They are not in conflict with one another, but it’s clear that one is not benefited by the other. Artistic drive alone distinguishes Death or Glory #1 from many new releases; it’s too bad that half-thoughts distract from the pure adrenaline that makes this issue work.
Published by Image Comics
On May 2, 2018
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Bengal
Lettered by Rus Wooton