For as long as I can remember I was never a fan of the horror genre. Willingly going into something just for the sake of being scared, whether it be movies, games, or even comics, never really screamed fun to me. The thing is, I LOVE a good piece of lore, and the horror genre is full of so many creatures and supernatural beings with tons of fascinating backgrounds and origins. As I got older I started to find little niches I can enjoy that aren’t just about jump scares and gore. There are so many interesting pieces of media made by creators that, while it may still be a little scary, just want to make a good story. What better way for me to get into a ghost story then have it be about a superhero? Enter Boston Brand, the Deadman, and my journey into liking horror through beauty and romance.
Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love was my first introduction to the character Deadman. He’s a loveable ghost of a circus performer who just wants to help others whether they are alive or dead. Such a unique concept immediately drew me to this eerie looking book on the shelves of my local comic book store. Originally published in 2016, it was the time of DC’s Rebirth initiative and for bringing back what people loved in all new ways. With the success of their big titles, DC started publishing books for as many characters as possible, and as a young adult with money burning a whole in his pocket I was more than willing to try anything I could get my hands on.
While the concept of a superhero ghost flying around solving crimes and possessing people is cool enough, what really made me fall in love with this book is the way it delves into the classic themes of gothic horror in a new age. A modern take on horror romance tales that you might find in novels or old movies from the 60s. This is exactly the kind of balance I was looking for when it comes to horror: not too scary but thrilling enough that I am drawn into the mystery of what is happening in this titular haunted mansion. One of the biggest draws to this book is the amazing diversity felt throughout. Written by Sara Khun with art by Lan Medina, this diverse team weaves a story of people of a variety of racial, sexual, and gender backgrounds that makes the book fit right in with the world today rather than being full of white men and women like the genre that inspires it. This was a pleasant surprise that made me enjoy the comic even more. And with that, onto the story itself.
The story takes place primarily in the stately Glencourt Manor, a mansion on the edge of a small town that has been around for hundreds of years with it’s own dark past. Just moved in is Berenice: a young woman who we, as we go through the story, realize has an intimate tie to the dead and the supernatural. With her is her boyfriend Nathan: an all too seemingly nice author who hides himself away to write his masterpiece or something (this isn’t really explained much besides “he’s a writer” but the ghost stuff in the story makes up for it). While Nathan doesn’t really become interesting until the end, Berenice feels completely well rounded. Little by little we see bits of her past and find out about her ability to see ghosts. Since she was a child this has caused her grief, pushing people away and even ending relationships throughout her life. She has a good soul and wants to help but is also afraid, not of the ghosts mind you but of what people might think of her if they knew and has caused her to have anxiety over her condition. As the story progresses we see her really break out in a need to help the lost, the same way this parallels with Deadman himself.
Beyond Berenice, the other main protagonist (of the living that is) is Sam. Sam is the most wholesome person and the sweetest character you could ever love. Not only is it great to see diversity of POC (Sam being black and Berenice being Vietnamese) but this is the first, and possibly only, time I have ever seen a non-binary person in Big Two comics, and one handled so excellently at that. The only time their gender identity is really brought to the forefront is when Deadman has to correct the pronouns he uses to refer to them. We love a woke ghost.
After a few months of quiet living, strange happenings begin to occur when Boston comes to the manor to help the spirit of a victorian woman, Adelia, he hears crying out in agony. After he enters the premises, however, he is trapped by some sort of dark magic and is subsequently caught up in a whole ordeal surrounding what happened so many years ago surrounding Adelia’s death. Berenice being the only one who can see them does what she can on her side of life with the aid of Sam, their romance/friendship being a major highlight in showing general care and understanding for one’s partner and their emotions. The biggest example of this is Sam believing Berenice immediately when it comes to her abilities, knowing that even though they might not be able to see or fully believe it they trust in her and her feelings, and if that ain’t romantic as hell I don’t know what is. We don’t see too much outside the mansion but there is a major focus on building the relationships of the characters through their pasts and emotional connections, for instance contrasting Sam’s love of old antiques with Berenice’s avoidance of them because of the feelings it gives her. This, like most human experience, can be changed by keeping your heart open to new things, like we see when Berenice finally connects with something old because it reminds her of her grandmother. Opening up and being comfortable with oneself is a major theme throughout this book and I think it’s played excellently.
Split between three prestige format books, each issue is broken into chapters switching off narration between Berenice and Boston. This offers readers an intriguing look at the afterlife but also life itself in the way that it compares how both protagonists perceive their circumstances. As the book describes it, Boston knows his purpose is to help others, but at the same time he is unaware of himself and his place in the world. He doesn’t really perceive himself as a “ghost” because the term doesn’t feel right with him, and plays into the greater theme of identity. He doesn’t even remember the day he died, which is both a clever reference to his decades-long existence in DC continuity but also a sad look at what it must be like to go about your days without being able to pass on.
While the ending is wrapped up rather quickly, it’s full of plenty of surprises that help satisfy the mysteries built up over the course of the book. Nathan goes from a boring sort of one note character to someone with an intriguing arc you might not expect. That along with Adelia’s history behind her death really brings the story home in a dramatic fashion you could only get in a gothic tale like this one. More importantly, even though this is only a mini series, you feel a sense of growth in our protagonists by the end. Berenice feels confident in herself despite the abilities that kept her afraid for so long that she was able to help others while Boston has a new found determination in his mission even though that might mean he won’t be able to move on and find peace himself.
Fear is the driving force behind the horror genre and what makes people so drawn to watching or reading that kind of spooky material. I’ve avoided it for so long but I realize now that it is more than just that. Horror media is filled with just as much hope, joy, and passion as it is death, fear, and loss. That balance between it all is what makes it great, and can be for people who want something deeper just as much as for those just wanting to have a good time. Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love takes this balance while it dives deep into the heart of being human, whether alive or dead, and the wide range of emotions that come with it.
Also there’s a superhero ghost so that’s pretty sweet.