R.I.P.D. City of the Damned by Jeremy Barlow, Peter M.Lenkov, and Tony Parker is an anthology billed as a prequel to the R.I.P.D. comic book series and the upcoming feature film starring Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds (available May 28, 2013).
This second collection of R.I.P.D. comic books, based on characters created by Peter M. Lenkov, continues the narrative established in the successful first volume which is soon to be immortalized in film with Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds in starring roles. In City Of The Damned, Roy Pulsipher and Nick Walker are chasing down errant souls for the R.I.P.D. when they come across a place from Roy’s past, a place he has no interest in dragging his new partner into. So Roy plunges into danger alone, warning Nick to turn back, and takes the reader a century into the past, when he himself was first recruited to the R.I.P.D.
Roy’s first memory of his afterlife is of trudging helplessly through the desert while being menaced by a literal dark cloud.
Two men—one dressed as a Puritan and the other as a samurai—ride to his rescue. After bringing him to safety, they try to enlist him, explaining,
“This is the Rest In Peace Department. Think of us as God’s police force. We do His work, and keep His system running smoothly [...] All beings face His judgment when they die. In some cases, His wrath. Not all want to. To avoid damnation, the evil ones hide, refusing to move on from this mortal plane. We root them out, send them along. If they resist, we purge them from the world.”
While Roy is convinced that his sinful past doesn’t quite qualify him for God’s work, he does acknowledge that he knows what he’s doing when it comes to chasing down bad guys. He’s further enticed by the promise of finding out exactly how he came to die, as his memory of his last few living hours is a blank. Apparently, he and his then-partner, Hoyt Stenson, had gone to a town called Black Pool, which the R.I.P.D. had been observing with special care. Roy’s soul was the first in ages to exit the town, especially notable since a number of experienced R.I.P.D. officers sent to investigate the Black Pool anomaly had never returned. R.I.P.D. suspects this might have something to do with why, for the first time in centuries, more souls appear to be entering the mortal realm than leaving it.
Roy, leery of the Almighty’s final judgment and knowing that service in the R.I.P.D. can only help his standing in the good books, decides to enlist. With the Puritan, Crispin Mather, he rides out to find Black Pool again. Along the way, they are accosted by an enemy with a similar purpose but, undaunted, continue their journey to uncover the evil at the heart of the mystery of Black Pool.
Fast-forward a hundred years, and Roy is shrugging off his new partner in order to settle the unfinished business of his earlier visit. It’s a thing of beauty to see how he breaks the cycle of history with his usual alacrity... or is he just following another pattern already set?
I liked how the question of determinism is dealt with here, even if it isn’t explained as such. City Of The Damned presents a complicated moral puzzle influenced by theology, occultism and philosophy, but at its core asks its readers this question: what would you do if you could stare into the heart of eternity? One character has this eloquent answer
“I don’t like to think about who I was before. Once a child of such promise. Once a young man with such potential. And I squandered all of it, tearing down everyone and everything around me when I could’ve been building...something. Anything. Everyone sees something different when they look down here. It’s like being shown the inside of your own mind.”
I also liked how the art is a nice throwback to the horror comics of the 1990s. I did feel at times as if the relative flow of the action versus the narrative was a bit choppy, but I did very much enjoy the stylistic choices made, particularly with the costuming of each character. There’s a terrific panel when Roy and Crispin are brought to the depths of Black Pool, immediately after the speech quoted above, that sent a delicious thrill of horror down my back. Michelle Madsen’s colors, especially in her warmer palette, did a great job of supporting Tony Parker’s pencils, as well.
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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.
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