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
When one brother plans a ram-raid while the other plans an insurrection and the two happen simultaneously, things can get messy.
In This Issue: At the end of the third installment of Dead Kings, Sasha was barreling away into the distance in Maria Dunajeva’s War Habit while the Stone Mary herself issued a “Come at me, bro,” to the Oprickniki who had been guarding it since she gave it up all those years ago. There was one reasonably large problem, however—Sasha had no idea how to pilot the War Habit. Out of necessity he turns back, slaughtering the remaining Oprichniki and taking Maria with him. Since only one person can travel in the War Habit, Maria seeks out a Leshisoldat and her flying mortar and pyrotechnic broom. The Leshisoldat is less than keen to assist Maria and Sasha, so the mortar and broom are obtained by non-lethal force. It’s “[b]ad luck to kill a real, old soldier.”
All the time that Sasha has been journeying toward his twin brother, Gena, in order to break him out of the internment camp at Sochi, Gena has been planning his own escape, and the day for action has come. Just as Gena and the rest of the prisoners begin their attack, Maria and Sasha arrive, much to Gena’s disbelief. Maria unloads a whole world of pain on the Oprichniki as the brothers share a moment, only to be interrupted by a stray camp guard intent on killing them both. Thinking of the promise he made to his mother to have Gena home by her fiftieth birthday, Sasha activates the explosive implanted in his body, and…
My Two Cents: Again, we are treated to a fully-formed fictional world with its own battle scars and history of oppression. In this penultimate issue of Dead Kings we hit the climax of the story—the battle to liberate Sasha’s brother from the Reconstruction Camp at Sochi, where he was sentenced to be imprisoned for the crime of loving another man. Sasha and Maria have finally come to understand each other, and a certain level of respect is reached prior to the attack on Sochi. They may have spent most of their journey seemingly at odds with each other, but they both have their demons to exorcise. For Sasha, it’s the manner in which he treated his brother prior to Gena’s arrest; how he was disgusted by Gena’s lifestyle and resentful because, as twins, he was so often mistaken for his brother, which, in a world where homosexuality is criminalized, could be extremely dangerous. For Maria, it’s the betrayal she has felt since the end of the war; the betrayal of a country to which she gave so much, only to have it turn around and attempt to force her down a morally reprehensible path. There are panels in this issue where one assumes that Maria is thinking back to that betrayal, and colorist Lauren Affe has done them all in shades of red. That color scheme is unique to those panels and it does a beautiful job of calling attention to the underlying emotion of the character.
I learned a little something in this issue. Sasha and Maria’s encounter with the Leshisoldat sparked a half-memory for me and I did a cursory search for Russian folklore and quickly found a character I have encountered before in other stories. Baba Yaga is a fixture of Slavic fairy tales. Her incarnations include old witches, fortune tellers, soothsayers, and guides along the hero’s journey. Baba Yaga transports herself in a flying mortar, wielding either its accompanying pestle or a mop or broom as a weapon. In seeking the source of the inspiration for the Leshisoldat I came across another piece of Russian mythos, which is a traditional opening for a fairytale, similar to the one we all know, “Once upon a time”.
“Across thrice-nine lands, in a thrice-ninth kingdom, in a thrice-tenth country…”
You may remember from earlier reviews that Dead Kings takes place in a country called Thrice-Nine. A subtle and beautiful tip of the hat to the old stories, I think, and a suitable one, considering the magical realism of Dead Kings.