Review by Dan Murray
Alabaster Graves is a driver for the dead. As a twenty-year veteran of funeral homes, mortuaries, and coroners’ offices across the Deep South, he has chauffeured hundreds of bodies to their final resting places, although the trip itself isn’t always so restful. Graves is a “specialty driver,” one who’s called in for the more unusual assignments that come down the pike, and if unusual equals dangerous, well, that’s just a job that pays more. Matter of fact, that’s just what Alabaster is about to get when the assignment to transport the body of a renowned voodoo priest, Mose Freeman, drops in his lap. With Freeman’s sultry granddaughter riding shotgun, Alabaster must cover the distance from Shreveport to New Orleans to retrieve the remains. What Alabaster doesn’t know is that he’s being pursued by a resurrectionist named Fallow, a necromancer who gets his power from stealing body parts… And, for Fallow, the corpse of Mose Freeman would be the ultimate prize.
With an extended prologue introducing us to the Exorcist Moses Freeman. With a not so subtle resemblance and the same surname as the man we all wish was our granddad, Morgan Freeman, I defy you not to imagine his every line in that famous drawl. Fatally wounded during a particularly nasty exorcism on a young boy, he hands out Alabaster’s card and the fun commences.
Enter Alabaster. Now, Alabaster Graves isn’t exactly what you might expect from a Hearse driver, an ex-soldier with a liking for cheap black suits and carrying more ordinance than Arnie in his 80s action movie heyday. Then again, you’re probably not expecting to see bodies taken to their final resting place in a souped up Pontiac GTO turned Hearse, with said ordinance hidden in secret compartments and “Black Betty” emblazoned on the side. His introduction, racing through New Orleans to get a newly turned vampire into the ground before nightfall, and the fact that his name is “Graves” are more signs that subtlety is definitely not what this comic is going for.
The story follows Alabaster as he tries to get Moses into the ground before something decides they’d like a chew on the carcass. He is joined by Alabaster’s sassy and attractive great-granddaughter. The two don’t hit it off at first but who knows what’ll happen… did I mention that the fact that there’s little to no subtlety yet?
The villain of the piece is Fallow, a man who has gotten so close to death that whilst he came back, he now needs to replace various body parts as they reach their sell by date and fall off (this does lead to a pretty funny cock joke that had me laughing even as I winced and thought “ow”). We find him getting his new organs by picking people with special talents, whether it be powers, physic vision or an ability not unlike The Voice from Preacher.
Fallow finally gets his hands on Moses and Alabaster has to do what all heroes must do in these times: tool up and kill everything that gets in his way. Oh, and along the way, he learns a few family secrets, fights a witch, a were-wolf and lots of undead thugs (though they put up such little resistance you can see why they didn’t last too long the first time around).
Now, you might be thinking that I didn’t enjoy the book, but that’s not the case. I think the writer himself put it best when he described the comic as “kind of like The Transporter in a supernatural setting.” That pretty much sums the experience up. The opening featuring Freeman is great, but very slow paced compared to the break-neck speed of the story which follows it. Once things kick off, they really do kick off and possibly setting the tone and pace for this a bit quicker would have made the transition less jarring.
The characters seem little more than caricatures, but they still have a certain appeal. Graves is reminiscent of the 80s action heroes we all miss so much. Unfortunately, his stoic nature does lessen his characterization as he takes everything (be it having to take on an invincible werewolf, finding out the devil is unleashing his enemies from Hell to revelations about his own deep dark secret) in his stride and displays barely any hint of emotion. Marissa is there as the straight (wo)man and also fills the “damsel in distress” role when the stakes need to be raised. Whilst the dialogue between them does contain some quieter, more intimate moments which I enjoyed, these are too few and far between, leaving their relationship to be enjoyably cheesy, but too predictable.
The biggest disappointment is Fallow. He’s a good villain and with a pretty decent back story, perhaps the most interesting of the characters. Unfortunately, his introduction and the organ replacements at the beginning of the story all follow the exact same pattern. We see the person with the power helping someone, he arrives, kills the people asking for help and then takes what he needs (though usually in a pretty gross way, which is fun in its own way).
It lessens the impact and by the last person, you are wishing he’d just get on with it. When he does finally get into his groove and meet Graves, it is pretty exciting as he packs one hell of a supernatural punch with his enhanced voodoo mojo and he makes a pretty decent bad guy.
Now, there are a few aspects that I can’t fault and one is Manco’s artwork. Not only does the whole thing look great (and here I should note that this is helped by the inking of Kinsun Loh & Jerry Choo), he brings the characters and the landscape to life and as always isn’t afraid to show a little gore… make that a lot of gore. I was also impressed with the cinematic style of the comic.
One thing in particularly that worked well was the use of a single image but with different panels set around it at different times. A good example is a single image of a vampire leaping at Graves as he fires a shot into its heart. Whilst this is a single image of a vampire and Graves, it is cut into 3 different times in the act. The vampire’s legs are on the left, the torso in the middle as it’s hit by a bullet and starts to disintegrate and finally just Graves in the right hand shot as there is nothing left of the Vamp. It’s a great way to capture the immediacy of some of the events as they happening.
There are also the different colours and fonts used when some of the supernatural creatures are speaking. It helps to differentiate the enemies and gives each their own unique voice and tone.
Also, the setting is second to none. Setting the tale in the Deep South, Heffernan not only has the rich history of Voodoo and Hoodoo, but also a environment where the locations can quickly change from eerily fog shrouded bayous to forbidding stately manors. It also adds in the Nascar/moonshine running element which is used to explain Graves’ love of both speed and danger.
In the end, this is an enjoyable enough read if you’re into the hard boiled heros of yesteryear, a good dose of supernatural mayhem or even just an exciting and fun story. I’ve been slightly harsh on it concerning the areas in which the book is slightly lacking but this is because I’m a fan of all of the above and whilst this left me slightly wanting, it has the potential to turn into a great mini-series or short stories along the lines of Criminal Macabre. As both Heffernan and Manco seem up for giving us follow up stories featuring the Driver for the Dead, I can only hope that these issues will be addressed, and if so, I’ll be looking forward to the next adventure of Alabaster Graves.
Click here to go to this review at Bad Haven or click the cover image to learn more about Driver for the Dead.