Deadman: Where Do I Start?

Deadman2Clint Barton. Dick Grayson. Deadman. What do they all have in common? They have all worked in the circus. Carnie folk, if you will. For Deadman in particular, life (and death) under the big top has led to one of the most unusual second acts for a hero in comic history.

At its heart, Deadman’s story actually begins after his life ends. Created by Arnold Drake and Carmine Infantino back in 1967, Boston Brand is a brash, self-absorbed trapeze artist who uses the Deadman moniker and outfit as part of his circus act. But when he’s murdered mid-performance, his trademark death’s mask gains an eerie resonance. Brand is brought back to life by the DC version of a Hindu goddess named Rama Kushna. In return for good works, he’s offered a chance to secure revenge.

Like a primordial version of James O’Barr’s The Crow which came out decades later, Deadman is a story of a man being brought back to life for vengeance and to do good deeds. His costume (which in my opinion is in need of an overhaul), continuously reminds readers of his circus past despite his progression into the realm of the supernatural.

Deadman’s had an uneven history in comics, with some great stories such as the early star-making work of Neal Adams, but hasn’t really been able to sustain a continuous role in the DC in either a solo ongoing series or part of a team book. Since “The New 52” started, his origin was retconned in the first arc of DC Universe Presents and the character spends his modern-day time as a member of Justice League Dark. So in this week’s Where Do I Start? (prompted by a reader request!), we delve into the lives and deaths of DC’s Deadman and pinpoint the key texts to the man known as Boston Brand.

Adventure Comics 464Deadman, Book One: This is where it all begins. From his debut story by Drake and Infantino and on through a young Neal Adams making his name as he takes over the character, this book collects the late 60s Strange Adventures stories from #205 to #213. Bringing in elements of The Fugitive with his own illustrative design work, Neal Adams really turns it up a couple notches — reminding me of how Jim Steranko did much the same when he took over Nick Fury, Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

DC Universe Presents, Vol. 1: Deadman and the Challengers of the Unknown: This book contains the most up-to-date origin of Deadman now that we’re in the “New 52” era, with Paul Jenkins and a magnificent Bernard Chang piecing together remnants of his previous origins into a new soul-searching and quest-filled past and mission statement. In this story, it shows Brand’s human life as less innocent and more selfish with his new status quo as Deadman a tool for both revenge and repentance, but falling back on the latter. This one shows Deadman rebelling against his supernatural savior, disagreeing not with her goals but in the manner to handle it.

Adventure Comics #459 – #466: These seven issues of the DC anthology series from the 1970s puts together some of that era’s greatest as Len Wein, Jim Aparo and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez do more street-level stories with the Deadman Dead Againso-called “Para-physical Parasite.” The standout for me is Garcia-Lopez’ first issue, #465 which shows Deadman attempting to break a street gang’s protection money racket.

Deadman: Dead Again #1 – 5: One of many overlooked DC series that has yet to be collected, this 2001 miniseries by Steve Vance and Leonard Kirk puts Deadman to work by traveling through time and re-visiting the key deaths in the DCU. That’s right, it’s a whirlwind tour taking you to the death of Barry Allen in Crisis On Infinite Earths, the murder of Jason Todd, the Death of Superman, and finally Parallax’ decimation of Coast City. There’s a larger story going on tied to Deadman’s story at the time, but it’s more window dressing for this excellent tour and seeing Deadman revisit these dark moments in DC history.

Solo #8: This isn’t for the book but for one single story, by Teddy Kristiansen and Neil Gaiman. Collected in DC Comics Presents: Brightest Day #1, this little six page story boils down the spirit of Deadman’s job over the years without hitting you over the head with continuity. Even without Gaiman’s name on it the story is bound to evoke comparisons to his Death stories, but I’d consider them cousins to same larger story of a shepherd for the recently departed with Deadman specializing in trying to prevent it from happening in the first place.




  1. I was lucky enough to get my hands on this:

    Which I think is the same stuff that is in Book One but in delicious hardcover slipcase format.

  2. I think Deadman would make for a good TV show as well, with lots of changes of course. ‘Circus acrobat’ is a little outdated for modern audiences, so turn him into a Jackass-style stuntman with his own reality show… gets murdered…. becomes Deadman…. then it basically turns into a mish-mash of Quantum Leap and Xfiles but set in the DCU.

    • I don’t get that, the circus is still around and many people seem to go to them all the time. It gets overused in characters sure, but if a movie or show had Deadman killed in the 60s or 70s… See where I’m going? One of the few episodes I enjoyed of “Batman: the Brave and the Bold” was when Deadman first appeared with an old fashioned Brooklyn accent.

  3. What exactly could he do? As far as super powers?

  4. Did anyone ever read the Deadman story with Kelley Jones as artist? I have a hard time trying to find it at NYCC so I’m not sure if it’s something that people even want to sell.

  5. For anyone interested in Deadman, I highly (HIGHLY) recommend Deadman: Love after Death and Deadman: Exorcism from Mike Baron and Kelley Jones (@TheNextChampion). It’s a really dark, creepy, and often straight-up disturbing story with Jones at his most beautifully Gothic. The two titles form one long story published between 1989-92, and they fit in with the best of that pre-Vertigo DC horror vibe. Find it if you can.

  6. I actually have an old “DC Comics Presents” that featured Deadman, always wanted to find out what happened next. The story involved him trying to prevent Lucifer or someone from being reincarnated and taking over the world. A Deadman show could be cool, as long as it isn’t watered down or messed with too much. One of the things that strikes me as inconsistent about Deadman is his motivation; Is he happy he died, Angry?, Was he a jerk or someone who hadn’t truly lived his life? I haven’t read anything Post New 52 about him but I did like some of how Geoff Johns wrote him (Lemire too, but that counts as New 52 I guess).