The New Deadwardians #1A comic review article by: Steve Morris
Oddly enough, you're going to have to accept I. N. J. Culbard's cover as part of the established canon for this new eight-issue miniseries, written by Dan Abnett. Although Abnett leaves plenty of references throughout the issue, he forgets to ever actually establish that his protagonist, George Suttle, is actually a vampire. It's a weird oversight, given that the cover clearly shows Suttle's vampiric nature and the rest of the comic makes sure to point out to readers that Suttle is immortal, can't go into direct sunlight, and so on. But anyway.
The New Deadwardians has a lot of things to escape from: Downton Abbey and Twilight and Dawn of the Dead, to start with. Vampires and zombies and genteel British tea-parties have become a strange sub-genre of their own recently, with the rise of novels like Pride and Prejudice and zombies or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The juxtaposition of quiet, mannered people having to deal with ravenous hoardes of the undead holds a certain appeal, apparently. There's an audience out there who want to see the uptight, stuffy members of ancient British society get over their simpering and start acting like real people. Which is where Abnett's story kicks in. The basic premise for this series is that there's been an outbreak of zombie… ness in Edwardian Britain, and the upper classes have decided that the best way to protect themselves from this is to become vampires.
There's a mad brilliance to the premise, which leaves much to the readers' imagination. George Suttle is already undead by the time the story begins, which means he doesn't have to go through a typical "origin" sequence to explain how he (and the rest of society) got to be in their current situation. Instead, Abnett is able to get immediately into the heart of a new story, as we see Suttle go about his daily life as the only Police Inspector left alive (ish) in London. Suttle is an immediately fascinating character, brought perfectly to life by artist I.N.J. Culbard's stoic pencils. It's all about posture with Culbard, as we see the stiff upper lip and stiffer back of Suttle casually go about the business of slaying a zombie invader to his house, before going upstairs to deliver morning tea to his mother. Abnett and Culbard's shared ability to reveal nothing about their main characters whilst simultaneously suggesting everything to readers is nothing short of astonishing.
The dialogue is terse, and spattered with silly British accents. Suttle himself speaks with a quiet dignity and disinterest in everything around him, which works both as a commentary on the nature of Edwardian society and as a side-effect of, y'know, the fact he's an undead vampire. Everyone around him sounds like they've walked out the set of a British film (you know the sort -- something with Maggie Smith, Colin Firth and Gillian Anderson in it) where nothing is surprising and a zombie invasion is classed as "a spot of bother." As a Britisher myself, I can appreciate this sort of thing in small amounts, and for the time being Abnett seems to be able to repress the urge to go full-on British stereotype with his cast. The story wouldn't work without this setting, so it's fair enough to have brief snippets from time to time. And anyway, the most effective sequences are the ones where Suttle reacts vaguely to somebody else asking him questions.
As an opening issue, The New Deadwardians relies heavily on Abnett's ability to make George Suttle into a compelling, distinct, charismatic presence. Luckily for everybody involved, that's exactly what happens, and the surrounding ideas about zombies and vampires take a backseat to Suttle's central plod through life. There's a charm in the book, but thus far Suttle is the main reason for anybody to pick it up next month. Culbard's art is well-pitched for a book like this, and he and Abnett seem to be taking great relish in the details of Edwardian society. As long as they can continue to build on Suttle, and move outwards to a supporting cast and compelling murder mystery for him to solve, The New Deadwardians looks it could be a unique and superior take on an age-old formula.
Steve Morris is the head and indeed only writer for Comics Vanguard, the internet's 139th most-favorite comic-book website. You can find him on Twitter at @stevewmorris, which is mostly nonsensical gibberish you may enjoy or despise. His favorite Marvel character is Darkstar, while his favorite DC character is, also, Darkstar. Never forget! He writes The Book of Monsters, a webcomic which updates every Sunday with a new story, monster, and artist. Join in!