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Captain Georges Malik on a variant cover for We Only Find Them When They’re Dead #1, Boom Studios (2020). Image: Christian Ward/Boom Studios

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The week’s best new comic is just called We Only Find Them When They’re Dead

In the industry, we call this “going full Kirby”

The human race is dying out fast, but the gods will save it. Not through divine action, no, but when we harvest their dead celestial bodies as the last resources in a depleted galaxy.

Set in the year 2367, Boom! Studios’ We Only Find Them When They’re Dead (WOFTWTD) is cosmic sci-fi that takes the current climate crisis to extremes, imagining a future where humans have to strip-mine giant space corpses to stay alive. It’s also the first creator-owned series by Al Ewing, a star writer at Marvel Comics, and Simone Di Meo, an exceptional artist primarily known for his work on assorted Power Rangers comics. They’ve proven that they can bring excitement, drama, and fun to corporate IP, and their new series gives them the opportunity to push even further without editorial restrictions.

Who is making We Only Find Them When They’re Dead?

Ewing broke into the industry working on the British sci-fi comics magazine 2000 AD — home of Judge Dredd — before becoming a fixture at Marvel Comics. He’s spent the last seven years gathering momentum at Marvel, proving himself particularly adept at building on ideas of the past while bringing complexity and modern-day relevance to characters who have been around for decades.

Ewing had an exceptional five-year run on various Avengers-related team books that showcased his talent for building compelling ensembles, but he didn’t have a big commercial success until Immortal Hulk. His Hulk goes back to the character’s horror roots for a fascinating and chilling exploration of emotional trauma. Ewing is extremely versatile, jumping from mythical fantasy (Loki: Agent Of Asgard) to sci-fi crime noir (Rocket) to madcap humor (You Are Deadpool) with ease, and this year, he took on two new high-profile assignments as the writer of a new Guardians Of The Galaxy ongoing and co-writer of Marvel’s big Empyre summer crossover event.

Italian artist Simone Di Meo is a relative newcomer to mainstream American comics, but he’s made a big impression with his art on Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers and the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles crossover miniseries. His work with the Power Rangers prepared him for the cosmic spectacle of WOFTWTD while giving him a wide variety of characters to bring to life, and his layouts and compositions energize action sequences and more grounded emotional moments. Mariasara Miotti assists Di Meo with coloring, and AndWorld Design is responsible for the dramatic lettering, which reinforces the gravitas of the dead gods.

What is We Only Find Them When They’re Dead about?

It’s basically an inverse-Galactus situation. In WOFTWTD, space gods don’t devour planets. Instead, their bodies float in from beyond the galaxy and humanity harvests their clothing and flesh to survive, now that their old worlds are no longer viable. Corporations still have the tightest grip on resources, and there are too many ships mining too few corpses. Georges Malik is captain of the Vihaan II, an autopsy ship with a crew of four that is barely scraping by, but Georges has a plan to escape their current state of desperation: find the first living god.

Why is We Only Find Them When They’re Dead happening now?

“We’ll make our move at first sighting,” Captain Malik says over intercom to his crew, on a pastel blue and neon yellow ship display, in We Only Find Them When They’re Dead #1, Boom Studios (2020). Image: Al Ewing, Simone De Meo/Boom Studios

Al Ewing has achieved a level of prestige and popularity at Marvel Comics that makes a creator-owned endeavor more lucrative, and Boom! Studios has become serious competition to Image Comics as the place where Marvel and DC writers take their creator-owned titles. (Other recent examples include Brian Azzarello’s Faithless, Kieron Gillen’s Once And Future, and Tom Taylor’s Seven Secrets.) Simone Di Meo’s profile has also steadily risen — he’s drawing Marvel’s new Champions series written by Eve L. Ewing, debuting in November — and he had a significant hit in the MMPR/TMNT crossover, which was the top-selling Boom! series each month of its publication.

Ewing describes WOFTWTD as an expansion of themes he’s explored in his corporate work — cosmic entities, gods, death, religion — but he can go further than he can in a shared universe where he has to “leave the idea-space reasonably tidy for others.” The climate crisis roots this story in a pressing real-world issue, and Ewing can double-down on socio-political commentary when he doesn’t have to assuage corporate overlords.

Is there any required reading?

You can go into WOFTWTD without any prior reading, but Ewing’s Marvel back catalog is highly recommended, with most of it available on the Marvel Unlimited subscription service. His Ultimates and Ultimates 2 series are especially relevant to WOFTWTD, focusing on a team of Avengers that includes the aforementioned Galactus, who temporarily stopped eating planets and assumed the heroic role of “Lifebringer.” It’s a fascinating look at the interior life of a being whose perspective is very far outside of the human (and superhuman) experience.

Immortal Hulk is Ewing’s best work, and Immortal Hulk #25 is a cosmic sci-fi/horror hybrid that takes readers to a future iteration of the Marvel Universe where Hulk has inherited the mantle of Galactus as the “Breaker of Worlds,” a monster that literally punches through planets. Featuring stunning artwork from Germán García and Chris O’Halloran, this issue gives readers a taste of the terror in store for Georges Malik and crew if they do find a living god.

WOFTWTD isn’t Ewing and Di Meo’s first collaboration, and their Immortal Hulk: The Best Defense one-shot shows the team operating in a completely different mode than their new series. This issue follows Bruce Banner as he travels to a creepy small town and takes out a number of attackers, tapping into Hulk’s strength and rage while staying in his human form. Ewing and Di Meo focus on brutal physical violence and creating a tense atmosphere in a familiar environment, and while this one-shot ends on a cliffhanger leading into a larger story, it functions very well as a standalone character study.

Is We Only Find Them When They’re Dead good?

The first issue of WOFTWTD accomplishes the tricky feat of being massive in scale while feeling intimate and grounded, focusing on the mundane elements of mining life. It evokes Ridley Scott’s Alien in its world building, keeping the focus on blue-collar workers who each have their own function on the crew. There’s the captain, coroner, quartermaster, and engineer, working together on a routine operation that helps the reader get situated in this fantastic environment. There’s a constant sense of discovery, starting with the revelation of the dead god and continuing through the mining process, including what happens if a ship goes after territory — that is, a part of the god’s body — it hasn’t formally claimed.

The art gives that discovery propulsive motion. Di Meo avoids conventional layouts, placing panels on different angles that give the page dynamic energy no matter what is happening. When he does incorporate a structured grid, as he does for a sequence showing the autopsy ship’s crew extracting and harvesting the flesh of the god’s cheek, it creates a completely different rhythm. This sequence is an intentional spotlight on the musicality of comic-book storytelling, the five-by-four grid functioning like the time signature of a classical ballet score, music paired with a type of dance that demands precision and uniformity. The first words spoken after 17 silent panels in this sequence: “Like a ballet, hm? Isn’t it beautiful?”

It really is. WOFTWTD is a gorgeous book from beginning to end. The linework is slick and detailed without sacrificing any personality, and Di Meo designs distinct characters and spaceships that make you want to see more about this world. The design of the god has a very “Final Fantasy summons” energy, shiny and ethereal yet primed for battle and capable of incredible destruction if it wasn’t dead. This is Di Meo’s first time coloring his own work, and the mix of vibrant neons and pastels heightens the cosmic fantasy. The colors enrich each page’s rhythm and define spaces with specific shades, bringing both intensity and clarity to the visuals.

The lettering on WOFTWTD is also a huge flex, highlighting how this visual element informs storytelling. Scott Newman’s logo design takes advantage of the wordy title to build volume, making each line of text bigger and ending on a loud “DEAD,” the single word larger than both rows above it combined. Ewing adds an emotional component to the title by making it a line of dialogue spoken to young Georges by his late mother, and the two-page title spread captures the weight of these words with a thundering transition from past to present. AndWorld Design uses a serif typeface without word balloons for the narration, adding an element of visual sophistication that is very forward-thinking in how the text interacts and integrates with the rest of the panel.

One panel that popped

Eyes open, the massive corpse of a beautiful armored female god drifts in space, as a fleet of tiny space ships approaches in We Only Find Them When They’re Dead #1, Boom Studios (2020). Image: Al Ewing, Simone Di Meo/Boom Studios

It’s all about scale here. The tiny fleet of ships coming up on a colossal dead god, with the size contrast capturing the corpse’s majesty. The rest of the issue plays with scale in very fun ways as the ships stake their claim on different parts of the gods, like a grisly Gulliver’s Travels in space.