Deadhorse written by Eric Grissom and illustrated by Phil Sloan, follows William Pike and his search for answers concerning a key he received from his deceased father. “The Sandwich Eaters”,the first chapter of “Book One: Dead Birds”, is a solid introduction into Pike’s quest. It establishes the main plot for the entire book, introduces the main character, William Pike, and shows how action-packed the series promises to be.
The prologue creates a scenario that piques the reader’s curiosity. Taking place in 1877, about a 145 years before the main story, we see a group of men led by Gadsworth stumbling upon an abundance of dead bodies. However, the fascination lies not in the skeletons that surround the camp, but in a box with an inscription that reads “Damu Abi Lu”. Although there are no signs present in the text or illustration of the comics, it is reasonable to believe that the inscription is written in Sumerian, as “Damu Abi Lu” in Sumerian roughly translating to “Child, Father of Man”. This inscription not only ties back to the Wordsworth quote used on the very first page– “The Child is the Father of the Man; And I could wish my days to be Bound each to each by natural piety”–, but the inscription also secretly solidifies the major theme of the bonds between a father and son. Even if you don’t know Sumerian or “Damu Abi Lu” is complete gibberish, it is very evident that there is a mysterious and deadly aura enveloping the strongbox.
The story then shifts to present day. William Pike is portrayed as a social recluse through a rather comical interaction with a beetle. The way Pike is illustrated, with sunken eyebrows and “I hate my life” eyes, just puts the cherry on top of the anti-social sundae. As William Pike recounts the mystery behind the key his dead father sent him, it is acceptable to assume that the key belongs to the box from the prologue.
While the main action of “Book One: Dead Birds” is to seek answers about the key, the story starts to become confusing in terms of character motivation as it leaves some unanswered questions. One of which is, who is Pike’s father? After making such an effort to establish the theme of “Father and Son”, it was kind of bothersome to not know what Pike’s relationship was to his father. Did he love his father? Did he really know his father? Was his father someone in the prologue? Pike is illustrated to look like the dead body with the box. Is that Daniel Pike? However, since the prologue takes place almost a century and a half before and Pike’s father has only been dead for forty, none of these characters can be his father without the help of the supernatural. Did something in the box lead him to live so long? Is this a supernatural story, even though “Magic isn’t real”.
This problem then leads to the concern of what is the connection between his father and the opening scene. Is the blue book his father’s journal? Why is William deciding to follow up now on his father’s death if he has been dead for forty years? While it is understandable that these questions might be answered in further chapters, it is hard to connect with the main character since the reasoning behind his motivation to solve the mystery of the key and the dedication to his quest is unclear. Therefore, it was jarring to see William put aside his anti-social proclivities and find the incentive to seek answers from a man named Andrew Conroy, especially since a few panels before he was introduced to the reader as a recluse. The narrative flow may have been smoother if the letter from William’s father was put in between the prologue and the first chapter, rather than at the end of the chapter.
While the puzzle of the main story remained unsolved, the contained sub-plot of the first chapter, the actual meat of the sandwich (pun… definitely intended… if not forced), was a strong scene. In “The Sandwich Eaters”, Pike is invited by the Vogels for a sandwich. It is comical in that it finds humor through relatability. We all know or at least have heard stories of that elderly couple that has a ton of children pets. And then to push the humor further, expectations are broken when the couple suddenly tries to murder Pike. I semi-predicted the husband would do it because he is drawn so sinisterly, but I did not expect the wife to make the first move! She is illustrated so sweetly. But then I had a slightly disturbing thought: I hope the Vogels didn’t intentionally kill Mr. Boggels. Murderous intentions aside, what is so great about this scene is how it also effortlessly pushes the main story’s plot along.
Because I don’t want to give too much away to anyone who hasn’t read it yet, let’s just say Pike’s encounter with the Vogels, regardless of his commitment to his father, gives him a good reason to continue his quest for answers about the mysterious key he holds.
Do you know what’s inside the box? Sound off in the comments or send us your thoughts on Twitter!