There are many versatile comic book writers whose work has stretched from the 1970s to the present day. One such writer, J. M. DeMatteis, has gone from ultra-serious stories (Spider-Man: Kraven’s Last Hunt), to the silly (Justice League International), to the spiritual/magical (The Spectre), to animated TV and movies (The Brave & The Bold, Son of Batman). DeMatteis has recently continued to stretch his limits by launching a Kickstarter campaign of creator-owned work known as DeMultiverse; however, where other writers would try one title, DeMatteis has launched four (along with a bonus fifth that will not be covered in this review) with classic talented artists. Each new series begins with a number one issue and is a different genre. These books are written as if they are continuing past the first issues, but DeMatteis and Spellbound Comics know for sure that only one will proceed with the fate of the rest up in the air.
The first title is Wisdom, a western which is illustrated by Tom Mandrake. The story follows the adventures of Gabriel Wisdom, a traveling actor/magician who lives in the 1880s. The issue reads like someone is peeling an onion. The book opens on a chase that leads to a flashback of Gabriel Wisdom arriving at a small town in Nevada. Within the flashback, there is another flashback which is Gabriel’s origin story. There is always a sense that the story is getting deeper and deeper. The art by Tom Mandrake is the best he’s ever done. (I have been watching Mandrake’s work grow since 1985 when he started drawing Batman, and his work on Wisdom is awesome!) There are some black-and-white splash pages which are absolutely breathtaking. This book is not without its flaws. The story is only 22 pages, which is not long enough in this style to tell a completely engaging story. That said, the potential for this title to be deep and wonderful is present.
The second title is Godsend, illustrated by Matthew Dow Smith. Godsend follows unhealthy outcast Eric Small as he struggles through his mundane life. Meanwhile, an Alien savior/hero named “Godsend” by the press appears to save people’s lives, giving them hope and something to live for. Eric is inspired by Godsend but discovers his relationship to the hero is closer than he thought. Godsend is really interesting. DeMatteis really focuses on the human condition in a way that is relatable to “real-life” superhero stories like Watchmen or Jupiter’s Legacy, only from the point of view of the people watching the events unfold. The art by Smith is very unique. Simple and gritty, it appears as if it was drawn with a pencil and then colored without inks. It could conceivably also be done completely digital. This book is moving in a clear direction and leaves the reader wanting more.
Third is Anyman, a superhero who is marketed to the public as a strange visitor from another planet who arrives on Earth in 1969 with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men; however, the backstory in a lie. Candidates are chosen by scientists and given powers to play the role of hero. These powers only last one year, and the present Anyman is killed by his abilities and a new Anyman takes his place. These Anymen are fully aware that they only have a year to live, and they train the new recruit until they pass the torch and die. Their bodies are stored side by side with the previous versions. In 2018, things change for one of the dead Anymen. This book is excellent – a fantastic superhero tale with a unique and interesting story. DeMatteis shows that he’s still got it when it comes to a slam-bang slugfest of heroes and villains. The art by David Baldeon is great, as well: clear, fun, and wonderful. Anyman is definitely a story that could continue on for some time.
Last, and certainly the strongest of the four books, is Layla in the Lands of After. The story follows 13-year-old girl Layla as she finds herself in a land of wonder after seeing a light while riding her bike one night. Layla meets her deceased cat Boris and her grandfather who, like Boris, has also passed. Layla discovers that the world she’s in is a Heaven of her own making, as the light she experienced was her own death. Not ready to die, she embarks on a journey to find the person in charge of the afterlife and ask to be restored to her previous existence. This book is beyond wonderful. The characters and settings are fantastic. DeMatteis, always one to explore spiritual themes, gives a unique take on life after death. The art by Shawn McManus (who had drawn DeMatteis’ Dr. Fate series in the 1980s, as well as the Vertigo title Fables) is breathtaking. The details and wonder of the worlds presented are simply fantastic. This book deserves a long life.
All four of the first issues of the DeMultiverse have something great to offer. As of this writing, it is unclear which of these series will continue. There is an option to do them all, with the understanding that it will take longer to get the second issue out if that is the case. (As someone who self-publishes his own book and am unable to get more than one issue a year out, a time delay does not seem like a problem to me.) If you have an opportunity, check them all out and let DeMatteis and his partners at Spellbound Comics know what you think.
Creative Team: J.M. DeMatteis (writer – all), Art: Tom Mandrake (Wisdom), Matt Dow Smith (Godsend), David Baldeon (Anyman), Shawn McManus (Layla In The Lands Of After)
Publisher: Spellbound Comics (Note: These books were crowdfunded on Kickstarter. They can be found on the Spellbound Comics site.)
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