Like most people, I love a good mystery. But in my mind, mysteries tend to evoke two basic responses while experiencing them: You either ask "Who Done It?" or "What The Hell Is Going On?". Now I realize that I am effectively downplaying the thematic range of what is a very broad genre, but when you get right down to it all, mysteries task their characters (and by extension their readers) into answering those questions over the course of a story. The “Who Done It?” story can be as straightforward as it is twisty, but it also usually comes down to characters coming across a crime being committed and then pursuing someone and catching them for it. The “What The Hell Is Going On?” story however tends to be the structural equivalent of big puzzle boxes. It uses various twists and weirdness to make solving the damn thing secondary to maintaining the characters' sanity. But if you can get through it you get the best prize in the proverbial box: The truth. Deadhorse is very much a story in the vein of the latter, and in its pages the question of "What The Hell Is Going On?" is asked a lot and the truth is an elusive prize indeed.
Deadhorse, written by Eric Grossam and illustrated by Phil Sloan, focuses on former professor William Pike as he sets out to investigate the claims contained within a letter from his father surrounding the mysterious (and actually real) titular town of Deadhorse, located on the outer edge of Alaska. The weird part is that his father has been dead for nearly forty years and he’s just getting it now. Well, actually the weird parts come after that with the killer bird people, a Sasquatch cosplayer/professional wrestler/hitman and the possible corporate experimentation surrounding a perpetual big bang generator made from the notes in a book about laser eagles so I guess it's all relative.
The book is structured in such a way that depending on how you read it you can either come out of it thinking it was a fun and breezy read or densely packed enough that you’ll have to go over it multiple times to see everything that’s contained within its pages. Like I said earlier though, this book operates by making the reader ask, "what the hell is going on," with instances of weirdness throughout. And that's a tough tight rope to traverse at times because each incident could derail the whole narrative if handled incorrectly. Luckily though, Deadhorse has such a great handle on its characters that it grounds everything enough to keep going forward without completely going off the rails. Whether it's Pikes' ability to see all the angles of whatever situation he’s in, or his inadvertent relationship with Elise and Edgar, two teenagers he drags into his mess, or the main antagonist The Sasquatch dealing with an existential crisis throughout the book, all the major characters have some grounding in reality even as the world around them gets increasingly weirder.
Sloan’s art has an angular quality that has an expressiveness to it that I think works really well for this kind of story. His character design is varied, but has an understated gawkiness to it that gives the action of the book an off-kilterness while still being fluid and bombastic. Actually, his whole style has an understated quality to it and that helps sell the books' overall weirdness; the world that these characters inhabit seems absolutely normal right up until it isn't. The more of the book you read, the more you realize that this world was never really normal, you just thought it was because the art was subtle enough to convince you to take it at face value through the use of small details that are subtle at first, and get more and more obvious the more you realize what is going on. It’s a really good aspect of the book and adds to the re-readability of the whole thing.
The only real problem with the book that I had is that it's clearly structured as the first part of larger story, and thus the end of this volume is all setup for the next one and it does it in such a way that I nearly threw my tablet across my room in frustration because of where they leave it. Though I suppose for them that's not really a problem since it means I want to read the next one. This doesn't negate the fact that everything before the last several pages were pretty much aces across the board, and honestly I think Deadhorse could easily be stacked up against some of the more notable genre comics from Image or Oni Press and hold its own. However, I've seen lots of comics with just as much quality fail to continue past their opening arcs (‘Sup Bad Dog, ‘Sup Xenoholics, ‘Sup Jersey Gods) because that’s the way it goes sometimes. Hopefully though, the creators will get their chance to continue this story, and maybe that continuation has already been given the green light and I’m spouting this nonsense for nothing. Either way I really enjoyed the journey that this first volume of Deadhorse took me on and I really hope to see more of it soon.
TL;DR: Deadhorse is a stylish well plotted mystery that impresses throughout with the only real problem being that at the end it leaves you begging for more.
Deadhorse is written by Eric Grossam and illustrated by Phil Sloan with colors by David Halvorson. A self-published title, you can purchase through their website or, support Spandexless by purchasing from our Amazon web store. If you want to see it in your local comic book shop, let them know!
A review copy of Deadhorse was graciously given to Spandexless by the creators.