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Driver for the Dead is “Something Different”

Review by “H.Bala”

Looking for something different? Radical Books, that nonconforming comic book enterprise, strikes again. DRIVER FOR THE DEAD, a wild three-issue mini-series, delivers a horror story permeated with a dark southern gothic flavor. It acquaints us with a gritty, buttkicking new hero, Alabaster Graves, who is a driver for the dead in the employ of the Delacroix Funeral Home & Mortuary. Not that we meet him right away. John Heffernan writes with panache. And it’s hard not to drool over Leonardo Manco’s phenomenal art.

This mini-series had me at its prologue, as the story opens with the last exorcism ever conducted by the celebrated old hoodoo doctor, Mose Freeman (who looks remarkably like Morgan Freeman). And wise and experienced as Mr. Freeman is, comes a time when a body runs into something beyond his ken. The demon exorcism goes horribly south, catches Freeman off guard and it spells the end of him. The expiring hoodoo man passes over a business card to his traumatized clients, beseeching them with his very last breath to call the number on it, Alabaster Graves’ number.

Maybe it’s apropos that our hero is of the scruffy variety, who tends to wear cheap black suits and who inhabits a shabbyass trailer. For me, there’s always been something simultaneously grand and attractively seedy about Louisiana, and Graves embodies those qualities. It’s assumed that chauffering corpses to their final resting place indicates low ambition or underwhelming skill sets in life. But in this mythologized version of Louisiana – a realm of sinister voodoo and powerful conjure – Alabaster Graves serves a key purpose. The bodies he ferries occasionally tend to be of the restless persuasion. When he’s assigned to transport Mose Freeman’s decomposing shell from Shreveport to New Orleans, Graves understands that this isn’t a cushy mission, that Freeman’s mortal remains, by virtue of the hoodoo man’s decades of magic working, are become prized possession for practitioners of the dark arts. It doesn’t help that Freeman’s quarrelsome great-granddaughter is coming along for the ride. But off they go in Graves’ crazy souped-up Pontiac GTO hearse, Black Betty.

Foremost amongst those craving the dark rewards of Freeman’s corpse is the necromancer Uriah Fallow, a Big Bad in whom the writer injects no redeeming value whatsofriggin’ever. Uriah Fallow is a nasty sort thru and thru, a villain what prolongs his existence by stripping body parts from magically talented folks, folks what ain’t necessarily dead yet when their personal parts got chopped off. We observe Fallow pluck an eye off a blind man gifted with second sight, and the necromancer gains the knack of prescience. Fallow’s modus operandi is particularly vicious and gruesome. It makes him an arresting adversary. As Fallow continues to add stolen talents to his résumé, you wonder how a mere mortal who lives in a trailer home can cope.

I gaze at DC’s 52 reboot and Marvel’s Fear Itself campaign, and I’m rendered less than impresssed. Instead, it’s stuff like DRIVER FOR THE DEAD that geeks me out. This is a project that’s crying out for a cinematic adaptation, but only someone like Guillermo del Toro or Alfonso Cuarón should helm it. It requires that feverish, ethereal touch that these guys can provide. John Heffernan immerses you in sinister supernatural doings in the Deep South. He establishes his Louisiana backdrops so vividly you can almost catch a whiff of the bourbon and the bayou and the Devil’s sweat as he consumes jambalaya and souls. Heffernan crafts a dark, pulpish, atmospheric adventure. He inserts a hard-boiled protagonist who remains as cool as the other side of the pillow, even when bracing vampires, zombies, green witches and the loup garoux. Showcase, too, the tricked-out Black Betty and Graves’ state-of-the-art arsenal that would make Charlton Heston have an accident in his pants. And then feature Leonardo Manco’s dynamite photorealistic illustrations and his cinematic style, as well as Kinsun Loh and Jerry Choo’s slick paint job. This is a recipe that leaves me howling for more. I even almost don’t mind the scheduling delays.

This trade reprints the mini-series on glossy paper and includes the following bonus stuff:

- Cover & Design Production Gallery

- Radical Books editor Renae Geerlings’ interview with writer John Hefferman and artist Leonardo Manco

- a copy of the song playlist that Manco listened to while he penciled and inked DRIVER FOR THE DEAD.

Click the image to go to this article in its original location or click here to learn more about Driver for the Dead.

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