4 out of 5
A Checkov’s Gun early on almost ruins the intense conclusion of Dead Inside – an entertainingly sprightly murder mystery – but Abnett, being a pro, weaves around the foreshadowing for something more true to the story and entertaining. Like ‘Creep’ some years before – and you could draw thematic connections to The Mask, or Rumble, or some of his BPRD work – Arcudi sits us with an outsider, tasked to solve a crime for which their dejected status makes them the best (though maybe not most obvious) option. ‘Best’ being relative, of course, as when Carla – a street cop promoted and then demoted down to being an internal jail police – begins looking in to a puzzlingly clean murder-suicide, butting heads with those who figure two inmates offing each other is open-and-shut, her actions end up causing plenty of high-stakes trouble for those around.
High-stakes is a key term there, and is one of Arcudi’s admirable traits as a writer: balance and restraint. Yes, there’s more going on in the prison than meets the eye, but John avoids the indulgence of making it a conspiracy that, y’know, goes up to the president and destroys the world. At the same time, not everyone makes it out alive. The consequences are real and logical to the scope of the story, which keeps it compelling.
And boy, is Toni Fejzula’s art to die for. His work in Veil was already pretty good, but his sense of pacing and framing has grown by leaps and bounds, sitting on the edge between gothic expressionism and, through his body language, a weighty realism. Colorist Andre May weaves around and through this style to make it ooze the noir flavor it needs, painterly blends where appropriate; sharper colors where appropriate. There wasn’t a panel or page that let me down.
Besides the structural reliance on an intro internal monologues for each issue (which set up that Checkov’s Gun), Dead Inside is a wonderful little mystery thriller, and I hope dearly that it’s an ongoing, or that we get more.