Driver for the Dead #1-2 (Radical Comics)

The mastermind behind Snakes on a Plane conjures up the horrific adventures of a hearse driver who specializes in transporting things that go bump in the night.

 

56 pgs., color; $4.99 ea.
(W: John Heffernan; A: Leonardo Manco)
 
Halloween is almost upon us so it’s a good time to check in with the aptly-named Alabaster Graves, hero of the Radical three-issue series Driver for the Dead. It’s a horror/action hybrid featuring Graves as a hearse driver who specializes in the transportation of “unusual clients”: witches, vampires, and the like who can’t just be loaded into the back of any old black station wagon. Since the series is set in Louisiana, you have to figure business is pretty good, although our hero does live in a trailer—but that could just be an expression of his loner nature.
 
Issue #1 opens with Mose Freeman, an elderly African-American man bearing more than a passing resemblance to Morgan Freeman, visiting the Connor household. They’re nice white people who live in a grand mansion loaded with spooky details (early on, we see portraits of two men conducting a duel) and have a young son who has taken to bed with a mysterious illness. Mose is a healer (that’s what it says on his bag) and the second question out of his mouth is “You ever had Black folks work here?”
 
My first thoughts are “that’s kind of a silly question—do you suppose Mrs. Connor dusts the whole place herself?” followed by “this is the Deep South—who do you suppose is most likely to hire out as household help?” and “it’s a good thing your character is Black so we can’t accuse you of racism.” The reason Mose is asking is because he spotted a “hoodoo” nail (his word) on his way in and, given the mysterious illness and their being in Louisiana and all, his best guess is that some Black person (the probable suspect is Clara, a housekeeper fired for stealing) set a curse on the house. Discovery of the gruesomely murdered family cat and a doll with pins in it (wearing a fragment of the kid’s shirt) hidden under the floorboards suggest he’s on to something.
 
Fortunately, Mose is just the man to handle the case and he conducts a very impressive exorcism. Unfortunately, the devil gets his own as well, and Mose’s dying words are “call this number…” Of course, the number in question is that of Alabaster Graves, who is at that very moment transporting an almost-vampire to his grave (there’s a time lag involved between being bitten and becoming a vampire yourself). This errand sets up an action sequence as Mose confronts a pair of grave robbers, the now-actual-vampire escapes from his coffin and some high-powered artillery is required to set things to rights. Forget about wooden stakes: nowadays, vampire killers use incendiaries and 50-caliber rifles.
 
Mose’s granddaughter Marissa shows up at Graves’ office and insists on accompanying him while he picks up her grandfather’s body and takes it to the graveyard. She and Graves are suspicious of each other, but she’s quite a looker (he’s not bad either) and you can just bet that their bickering will turn into something else by the close of the series. An action sequence with a witch proves a mere diversion, but a far more gruesome episode involving a big guy in a duster with circumscribed pentagram on his palm sets up the transition to the second issue, which starts with Marissa and Graves picking up Mose’s body from the Connor’s house. They have lots of time to talk (scenes set in cars are really good for that) and helpfully spend most of it providing us with back story. There’s more horror and action as well (zombie state troopers!), and we learn who the guy with the pentangle is and why he’s after Mose’s body.
 
Driver for the Dead is an OK series if you like the genre mix, but it’s also repetitive (basically horror/action/horror/action until you run out of pages), derivative, and often feels more like a movie pitch (writer John Heffernan co-wrote the screenplay for Snakes on a Plane) than a comic written for its own sake.
 
The art looks like storyboards: there’s no sense of action flowing across the frames and instead the story is presented as a series of snapshots which could easily be translated to a movie set. Leonardo Manco favors page-width horizontal panels (often six to a page) which are composed like wide-screen movie frames, and the general artistic approach also seems devised for a movie pitch: the locations and human characters are presented almost photo-realistically while the monsters are vivid if not particularly original. There’s also product placement, potential tie-ins and a role custom-fitted for Morgan Freeman. With all that, I feel like these issues should come with discounted movie passes as well.
 
You can read an interview with the author John Heffernan here http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=26833 and see a preview of issue 2 of Driver for the Dead here http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=preview&id=6513&disp=table . | Sarah Boslaugh

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