I’ll be honest, I thought that was all there really was to Dead Squad at first. Yet another male military power trip fantasy in a sea of them. While I don’t think there’s anything necessarily bad about that because, for all the controversy these kinds of stories cause, they’re still fun. We’re adults, the comic is for adults, and if you haven’t been driven to unspeakable acts by comics yet it’s doubtful that you will be in the future. Having said that, I’ll be the first to admit that Dead Squad #4 is still fun, but unlike the previous volumes, it doesn’t seem to be enjoying itself. It’s very serious in its execution, and it’s not even that it’s taking itself seriously in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way like before; it has suddenly decided to stop with the whimsy and get in to some really dark territory. Case in point, the concept of life after death is such an overpowering theme in the issue that it drives all the actions of the leader, Cooper. It’s interesting to see how not just Coop, but the entire team, seems to have reacted to the sudden realization of the possibility of an afterlife (or lack thereof in one character’s case). It makes them much more human, and that seems to be the case for not just the heroes, but the villains as well. Fisher has suddenly been revealed to have some very relatable motivations for his actions that makes his character more sympathetic but doesn’t diminish his threat.
The content of the story is much more philosophical than before, which distracted me immensely, and pretty much guaranteed that I wouldn’t see the main conflict coming (Good on you Dead Squad. You got me). It’s sudden and brutal and incredibly effective at conveying how drastically and quickly a situation can change. Things promptly go downhill, and it’s worth noting how incredibly well Michael Montenat and Douglas Sirous translate the intensity of the finale of the volume in the art, with appropriate levels of detail and motion to give us the full effect of how dangerous the scene should be.
There are still some pretty glaring problems though. Despite how well the third act is handled in terms of severity and tension, the rest of the issue suffers from a lack of steady progression. Characters reactions don’t scale convincingly with the amount of time that seems to have passed between panels. It creates stop gaps where the plot seems to lurch forward suddenly, instead of moving steadily. Vargas suffers tremendously from a one-dimensional and predictable character arc, with Doctor Nash following suit (Yet it still passes the Bechdel test, proving once and for all just how flawed the thing is). Both are limited to being objects of pursuit for male characters, or to compliment the male prowess. I still don’t think it’s deliberate, but come on guys, I mean at some point it just becomes gross negligence. Also, this is going to seem ridiculous, but Coop’s shirt is way too tight in the beginning. That thing doesn’t even look like it would fit if it was buttoned up. I know I know, it’s a stupid complaint, but it just really bugged me.
Final Word: Dead Squad #4 is a little too serious for its own good. Its premise is still interesting enough to keep the attention, but it seems to be less aware of its own flaws than it was before. As a result, the series loses a bit of its charm. The female characters are way too outdated to function as anything more than obligatory eye candy. With the exception of a minor pacing inconsistency, these are small gripes that can be levied against the genre itself as easily as they could Dead Squad. What #4 does have going for it is an intense battle scene, some really relatable moral and philosophical conflicts for the characters, and a main conflict that rotates between action and drama on a dime. Dead Squad #4 is surprisingly thoughtful, but the continued lack of dynamic female characters, and a tone inconsistent with the previous volumes, will no doubt turn some readers off.