For long time readers of the site, you know that I occasionally like to do a column called Rentals Under the Radar, where I examine a film or T.V. show from the long or recent past that is available of DVD. Well this time, we’re switching it up a bit. Instead of a video rental, I’m going to be dissecting a recent Trade Paperback collecting the entire series of a lesser known Vertigo title called Deadenders that originally ran for 16 issues back in 2000 and 2001. I picked this book up a month or two ago solely on the fact that is was written Ed Brubaker. What can I say? I love the guy’s work and to get a chance to go back and read something I missed by him when it was coming out was too good to pass up. With art by Warren Pleece and inks by Cameron Stewart, Richard Case and Jay Stephens, it seemed like a winning combination. So I sat down to have a read.
The story takes place in dystopian society that experienced a world changing event 20 years before which was known as the Cataclysm, that resulted in the loss of natural sunlight and caused the segregation of society into sectors where the poor live in radioactive squalor and the rich live in shiny neighborhoods with new buildings and artificial weather systems. In the city of New Bedlam, self-centered teenager Bartholomew “Beezer” Beezenbach, a drug dealer and slacker who lives in sector 5, one of the worse off sectors, is more than meets the eye. He regularly experiences visions that are more like windows to the past. For brief moments, he see things as they were before the Cataclysm. There are dark days ahead in his future as he ends up being the key to resolving the problems with the current conditions. But before he can help with that, he’s got a lot of growing up to do. The bulk of the series breaks down into to 3 main story arcs. The first is an introductory story that gets pretty intense as Beezer’s best friend is terribly injured in an accident that ends up leading to a heist of a weather machine and a drug deal gone awry in another sector. The second arc has Beezer on the run with his girlfriend from the dealer that got screwed in the drug deal. Finally, the third arc focuses on the Cataclysm itself as Beezer travels across the districts to find a girl who has similar “visions” and the two go about figuring out the mystery of what exactly happened 20 years ago that changed everything.
As someone who’s come to find this series over a decade after it’s run, it’s interesting to see Brubaker’s work here and compare it to his present offerings. With the exception of his run on X-Men, I don’t think he’s been known for anything that would fall into the realm of science fiction. His characters tend to be men approaching or passing middle age who’ve seen a lot of violence in their day and have become weary because of it. In this story, the main character is a 19 year-old kid who thinks he knows everything and is always getting into trouble. The supporting cast is also very different from the usual type you find in a Brubaker book as they’re mostly kids as well. A few adults are peppered throughout but most of them fall into the villain category. What amazes me is that while it might feel foreign, his characters feel just as spot on as any of the stories he’s telling now. I was blown away at how strong the world built within the story was and also the well defined characters that lived within it. This series only went for 16 issues. There are series’ that have gone on for years that don’t have as strong an atmosphere in place. And even though this story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, the characters are still going through what most of us go through when we’re about to hit our twenties and become “adults”. Even though the setting is exotic in a sense, the characters feel like guys and girls we know. It’s kind of like a slice of life for the end of the world set.
The style of this book is very interesting. For a story that is suppose to take place in a near future, all of the clothing and hairstyles are very Mod influenced. All of the guys drive around on scooters and sport mop-top hairdos. It has a feel that is very sixties inspired giving the story its own flavor that while not too different from our universe, it still feels like this could be a parallel world. What’s also very cool is the homages to Archie Comics. Done twice throughout the series, Brubaker introduces an alternate version of the story called “Those Darn Dead-End Kids“. The idea is that this series was originally produced in the late sixties and has the style and storytelling of an old Archie story gone off the rails. Brubaker would revisit this homage in Criminal: Last of the Innocent, taking it to much more risky heights that paid off. It’s nice to see what may have sprouted that idea here.
I was surprised at how much I loved this series. Sci-Fi usually isn’t my thing. Neither are post-apocalyptic settings. But the strength of the characters in this book really pull you in and keep you reading. Kurt Busiek said best in regards to this series: “Defenders is a rare treat – a work of genuine creativity and surprising warmth.” And that’s probably what surprised me most . The story is incredibly touching and there’s a great sense of family within this rag tag group of friends. When you get to the end of the series, you feel like you know all of them pretty well and wouldn’t mind hanging out with them yourself. And yes, there is an ending to this story that comes to a natural conclusion. None of these characters get left behind.
I highly recommend you pick up The Deadenders Complete Series Trade Paperback today. You’ll be glad you did.
And if you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!