Blood From A Stone (Dead Kings #3 Serial Three: Pay In Blood Comic Review)

Story by Steve Orlando
Inks & Cover by Matthew Dow Smith
Colors by Lauren Affe
Lettering by Thomas Mauer
Logo Design/Production by Charles Pritchett
Edited by Mike Marts

“If this is to be my epitaph, I think I’ll write it with two hands.” Everything comes at a cost—though sometimes that cost is greater and more unusual than you’d think.

In This Issue: Dead Kings #3 from Aftershock Comics continues Sasha’s journey to rescue his brother with the help of Stone Mary, Maria Dunajeva Kamenaya. We left them in an eerie train graveyard peopled by only one soul: The Conductor. Maria and the Conductor have history, having fought together in the wars, but at their last meeting Maria was a violent messenger of the government. The Conductor abides in his train graveyard because the isolation was the least unpleasant of his options.

Sasha and Maria need Maria’s War Habit to liberate Sasha’s brother from the prison camp, and in order to get to it, they need an algorithm from the Conductor that will lead them to a location where the Vault Train in which it is stored will solidify. The Conductor is loathe to part with this information gratis and demands payment in blood—Maria’s blood. His ultimatum stems partly from his bitterness at Maria’s betrayal and partly from a desire to obtain some of the nanotech she had injected into her bloodstream to help counteract the effects of the intense pain and nerve damage caused by her time spent in her Steel Polianitsa armor. Maria is disinclined to acquiesce, as losing blood means losing a portion of the nanotech which increases her pain levels. Sasha, desperate to get what they came for, tries to persuade Maria to relent, but meets with no success. There would have been a stalemate if the Conductor hadn’t chosen an opportune moment to stab Maria through her left hand, pinning it to a table. When Maria still refuses to yield up her blood, Sasha plays his ace. He threatens to detonate the explosive he had specially implanted into one of his testicles—the bomb he was planning to use to help free Gena from Sochi.

Everyone gets what they want.

The Conductor’s algorithm proves accurate and Sasha and Maria are able to break in (quite literally through a wall) to the Vault Train. The train is guarded by a contingent of Oprichniki, and between staving them off and the train resolidifying in a new location every seventy-seven seconds, the fight to get to Maria’s War Habit is fierce. By the time they reach the armor, Maria is in a significantly weakened state. She activates the armor and tells Sasha to take it and go, which, after a brief argument, he does. Maria turns to face the last of the Oprichniki alone.

My Two Cents: The overall story and world building in Dead Kings are cogent, and the art, enhanced by the color, works to tie everything together. Between the fighting inside the Vault Train and the location-jumping of the train itself, the second half of this issue is understandably action-heavy. Fortunately, Matthew Dow-Smith’s panels allow the reader to experience the action in a concise and straightforward manner—that much moving around could easily become muddled. Dead Kings is a dark book, literally and metaphorically, but just when you think it might tip too far into the abyss it shines a little light on something, like Maria’s sudden moments of compassion. (Though, let’s be honest, they’re the grittiest kind of compassion.) It looks as though we are finally on our way to the main event—the breach of Sochi and Sasha’s rescue of his brother—and whether we have lost Maria for good, or just for now, we know that her steel skin, used and abused for so long at the behest of her country, has been resurrected to help right some of the wrongs it helped achieve in the name of patriotism.

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Elizabeth Fazzio
South Bay native turned East Bay resident. Holder of two less-than-useful arts degrees. Human Resources professional by day, creative recluse the rest of the time. Favorite words: Weasel, toast. Mental health advocate--https://makeitok.org
Elizabeth Fazzio
Summary
Reading this issue of Dead Kings I was reminded of my thoughts on the sixth book in the Harry Potter series—it felt like a placeholder. It served its purpose, which was to fill in the space in order to get the reader to the Big Finish, but it was just kind of...routine. Dull. There weren't any real surprises, no twists. We got the information from the Conductor about where the Vault Train would solidify, he and Maria kvetched about how they were betrayed by their country and by each other, Sasha pulled the rabbit out of his hat (or, if you prefer, the explosive out of his nether-regions) as a negotiating tactic, our heroes found the thing they were looking for and fought the bad guys...We got where we needed to go without much in the way of truly deep conflict. There were multiple missed opportunities for some properly gut-wrenching confessions, hand-wringing tension, and passionate appeals to inherent human worth. Maria's sacrifice at the end of the issue—expected or not—could have left us profoundly moved, but, for me at least, it fell flat.
Good
  • Execution of magical realism
  • Art and story blend seamlessly
  • Seamless worldbuilding
  • Good use of color
Bad
  • Overuse of BOLD
  • "Placeholder" issue
7.3
Good
Art - 8
Story - 9
Writing - 6
Predictability - 6
Written by
South Bay native turned East Bay resident. Holder of two less-than-useful arts degrees. Human Resources professional by day, creative recluse the rest of the time. Favorite words: Weasel, toast. Mental health advocate--https://makeitok.org

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