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Deadbox #1: A Horror Story About Belonging & Unwritten Futures

Katie takes a look at another excellent offering from Vault Comics!

“The most painful state of being is remembering the future, particularly the one you’ll never have.”

― Søren Kierkegaard

Do you love horror? Stories about being trapped in a god-forsaken small town with a myriad of colorful characters? Vault Comics? New or old Vault Comics horror fans will be fighting to obtain a copy of Deadbox #1. Okay, maybe only Captain Kirk-worthy wrestling match battles should ensue, but you get the idea.

Credit: Mark Russell/Benjamin Tiesma/Vladimir Popov/AndWorld (Vault Comics)

Mark Russell makes his foray into the horror genre as the writer of Deadbox #1. The creative team for Vault Comics’ new five-issue miniseries also includes illustrator Benjamin Tiesma, colorist Vladimir Popov, letterer Jim Campbell, and Vault superstar, designer Tim Daniel. 

This review begins with a quote from Danish philosopher Søren Aabye Kierkegaard about internalized pain accrued from yearning for a future that will never come to fruition. I question society’s general cognitive dissonance and memory lapse every day now. Lately, a meme that has been circulating, known as “My Fall Plans vs. The Delta Variant” (humorously?) tries to show how the latest COVID-19 variant has nullified people’s autumn event schedule. Meanwhile, I’m sitting here wondering who had Fall plans in the first place during this unceasing pandemic? The future may not be written in stone, but mapping out plans for the final months of this year never seemed like a viable option (for me, anyway) based on current events, COVID, and distrust. I’m not here at all to criticize individuals’ sadness over another holiday season contaminated by a deadly virus. Personally, my expectations lowered a year and a half ago and I haven’t felt hopeful about the future in a long time. 

Needless to say, Kierkegaard’s words hit home, particularly considering the throbbing ache — those privileged to even consider a more agreeable future — are currently collectively experiencing.

If you were to list all the intriguing themes in Deadbox, you might line them up side-by-side inside a crimson media vending machine. Would you like to check out “Kierkegaard & Existential Philosophy”? Does “Belonging & Meaning” suit your cinematic tastes? Can you palate the sweeping epic horror movie, “I Had to Give Up My Future and Stay in a Shitty Town I Hate Because I Have Too Much Empathy to Leave My Dying Dad Behind For College?” Here’s a personal favorite: “Life Sucks XVIII: Movies Are Escapism.” Grab some popcorn, because you’re about to read a comic seething with philosophizing, fright, and relatability. 

Deadbox #1 features an ominous DVD rental machine called a Deadbox and a self-delayed college student who imagines an unrepressed future outside of her rural town, Lost Turkey. Penny’s desperation for a future beyond her reach drives the slow-burn pace in Deadbox. She longs for more — for a life beyond interacting with backwards-thinking townspeople at the convenience store she works at and halting her college plans in order to care for her sickly father. 

Credit: Mark Russell/Benjamin Tiesma/Vladimir Popov/AndWorld (Vault Comics)

Immediately, Deadbox asserts its first issue thesis: Where do any of us truly belong?

Russell’s dialogue launches readers into rumination from Deadbox’s opening pages. The narrator waxes philosophical, correlating America’s obsession with “patriotism” and land ownership while questioning the affinity for belonging. Caption boxes with Jim Campell’s typeface aesthetic emulating formal document lettering hover over Benjamin Tiesma and colorist Vladimir Popov’s images of a dusty, rural landscape. Tiesma illustrates Lost Turkey with dark shadows and rough linework. Here, readers immediately gain familiarity with the town. All touchstones of American rural existence appear from varying angles in a noteworthy, four-panel grid composition: A man holds a gun in his lap, a police officer cruises along the road, a dog leashed to an American flag barks loudly, and a storefront bears posters reading “Enlist” and Christian cross imagery. From there, we are pulled into the darkness looming in Penny’s isolated world. The transition works seamlessly as colors dim further, shadows linger longer, and lines feel more weighted. 

Credit: Mark Russell/Benjamin Tiesma/Vladimir Popov/AndWorld (Vault Comics)

Visual horror awaits readers, but plenty of fright is present as we learn about Penny’s depressing existence in the dual narrative comic issue. How many of us can relate to Penny’s plight? When your head is contemplating a future pulsing with possibility and your body is trapped in a place restricting your sense of personhood, your heart ascribes both physical and psychological pain to yourself. Because of this, we retreat within ourselves. People seek comfort in many forms. One such form of shelter is physical media. 

Deadbox points to film as escapism, where we can take solace in watching a fictional story casting characters in situations we either feel relieved in not having to endure or find a piece of ourselves within. In Deadbox #1, the latter statement manifests itself all too tangibly. The films in the Lost Turkey Deadbox aren’t found anywhere else because they are a reflection of the watchers’ own lives. Duality runs through the Kierkegaard-influenced comic in both theme and artistry. Without spoiling too much, the Deadbox movie Penny dares to watch exhibits dramatic parallels to the comics’ opening cogitation and an adroit sci-fi artistic look. Binaries exist in immensely well-executed form in this 10/10 comic.

Credit: Mark Russell/Benjamin Tiesma/Vladimir Popov/AndWorld (Vault Comics)

If there is any criticism to be had, I would argue Deadbox #1 boasts a highly elevated script you may need to re-read to gain a fuller understanding. However, you’ll probably end up flipping through the comic pages again anyway because the art and story are incredible. Gleaning additional analogs in the process acts as a bonus. 

There’s no renting like a DVD rental box when comics are involved. You need to have your money in hand when bursting into your comic shop on September 1st to buy a copy of Deadbox #1.

Mark Russell makes his foray into the horror genre as the writer of Deadbox #1. The creative team for Vault Comics’ new five-issue miniseries, Deadbox, also includes illustrator Benjamin Tiesma, colorist Vladimir Popov, letterer Jim Campbell, and Vault superstar, designer Tim Daniel. 

By Katie Liggera

Graduate of UCF Online with a B.A. in Creative Writing.
Reading anything I can get my hands on. Wishing I could write about every single comic I consume.

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