Unearthing Deadman

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As the Blackest Night spreads across the DC Universe, Broken Frontier unearths the histories of several of the key players in the event.

Spoiler warning:  Read no further if you’ve not had a chance to dig into your most recent Blackest Night titles…

Created by Arnold Drake and Carmine Infantino, Boston “Deadman” Brand first appeared in Strange Adventures #205 (October 1967).  A death-defying trapeze artist, Brand’s story began when he was shot and killed during his performance by a sniper.  Brand found himself beside his own body, a ghost, reanimated by Rama Kushna (a near-omnipotent eastern goddess and mistress of the idyllic land of Nanda Parbat).  Invisible and unable to directly interact with the living world, Brand’s new mistress granted him the ability to possess the body of any living person, so that he might be able to help bring justice and balance to the world.  After helping shut down a drug racketeering ring at the circus, Deadman embarked on a quest to find his own killer – a man with a hook for a hand – and bring him to justice.

Deadman’s quest to find “The Hook” led him through many suspects, even bringing him back into contact with his own brother, Cleveland (Strange Adventures #211, April 1968).  Unaware of Boston’s new existence, Cleveland also took up the case of smoking out Deadman’s killer, returning to the circus where he masqueraded as his brother (Strange Adventures #212, May 1968).  Deadman gained another ally in his quest for justice, revealing his existence to Batman (Brave and the Bold #79, September 1968), with the two frequently teaming over the years.

Ultimately, it was Boston himself who located “The Hook,” trailing him to Hong Kong and the headquarters of the League of Assassins.  A new would-be-member to the League, “The Hook’s” initiation had been to kill Boston Brand.  Due to Cleveland Brand’s appearance as his brother, the League believed that “The Hook” had failed, forfeiting his own life.  Mysteriously unable to intervene, Deadman was forced to watch as the League’s leader, The Sensei, killed “The Hook.”  Standing over “The Hook’s” body, Deadman was asked by Rama Kushna if he felt that balance had been struck and if he was satisfied.  Deadman reluctantly admitted that “The Hook” had paid for his crimes, but that he found no satisfaction in it.  At that, Rama Kushna disappeared, leaving Deadman alone to contemplate his fate (Strange Adventures #215, November 1968).  In the aftermath, Boston is drawn to Nanda Parbat where he discovers he regains a corporal form.  Communing with Rama Kushna, Deadman elects to return to the larger world, as a ghost, and serve as her balancing hand of justice (Strange Adventures #216, January 1969).

From this point, Deadman moved into several guest-spots and back-up features in Brave and the Bold, Aquaman (#50-52, March-August 1970, a strange back-up feature that revealed to Ocean Master his kinship to Aquaman), Challengers of the Unknown, Forever People (#9 & 10, June –September 1972 – a tale now considered out-of-continuity, in which Jack Kirby used an artist error from Strange Adventures as a springboard for a new origin for Deadman), and Justice League of America (#94, November 1971, an interesting tale that drew together the League of Assassins, Batman, Deadman,. Ra’s al Ghul and Aquaman).  Deadman also appeared in the final issues of The Phantom Stranger (#39-41, November 1975-January 1976), once again clashing with Sensei to save the life of Cleveland Brand.  Also worth mentioning, if for no reason other than its bizarre cast, Deadman took part in the final arc of Challengers of the Unknown (#84-87, December 1977-July 1978), in a time-travel adventure that partnered him with the Challengers, Swamp Thing and Rip Hunter the Time Master. 


Deadman finally regained a regular home with the anthology title, Adventure Comics.  From issue #459 (September 1978) to #466 (December 1979), Deadman had several adventures that reunited him with Cleveland and the circus.  Despite stops in Crisis on Infinite Earths, Swamp Thing, Millennium and The Spectre, Deadman’s most high-profile appearance came from a 7-issue mini-series (Deadman #1-7, May-November 1985) – comprised entirely of reprints from Strange Adventures #205-216.  Springing out of the modest success of that series, Andrew Helfer and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez produced a 4-issue series that was a direct sequel to the original tales (Deadman #1-4, March-June 1986). 

Deadman was rather quiet during the next year, but returned as one of the regular co-features in Action Comics Weekly (a return to the anthology format that had originated the series back in the1930s).  Under the guiding hand of writer Mike Baron, Deadman appeared off-and-on between issues #601 (May 1988) and #642 (March 1989, when the title returned to a monthly format staring Superman).  During these arcs, Deadman clashed with his foe, the Sensei, in tales drawn by Dan Jurgens, and later, Kelley Jones.  The pairing of Baron and Jones proved popular enough to springboard a 2-part Deadman special in 1989, Deadman: Love After Death, a mature readers title in which Jones was able to apply his heavily stylized art to a new interpretation of Boston Brand.  The duo continued this darker take in 1992’s Deadman: Exorcism, in which Boston Brand lost contact with Rama Kusha and begins to go insane.  After committing horrible crimes and uncovering dark secrets of his childhood, Deadman is re-united with Rama Kushna, who sends the ghost to reconnect with his humanity (which eventually follows in Steven Grant’s satirical Lobo/Deadman: The Brave and the Bald, 1995).


Following this brief resurgence, Deadman returned to the fringe of the DC Universe, making several appearances in the Kelley Jones penciled Batman series, as well as Green Lantern, Resurrection Man and the Day of Judgment crossover.  2001 brought a 5-part Deadman “event” with Deadman: Dead Again (October 2001), in which Boston guided the souls of various DC superheroes into the afterlife, while trying to thwart a devilish bid for power.  This was continued the next year with a short lived Deadman series, which was quietly cancelled following issue #9 (October 2002).  Once again, Deadman was absent from the DC Universe for several years (as the title “Deadman” was moved to DC’s mature readers “Vertigo” imprint, as a new series, unrelated to Boston Brand). 

With the fall of the Blackest Night, Boston Brand began to hear a voice calling to him – that of his own body.  Arriving at his grave, Deadman witnessed a Black Lantern ring command his physical remains to rise.  With no other option, Deadman attempted to take control of his own remains, but is was quickly expelled (Blackest Night: Batman #1, October 2009).  Seeking out aid to return his own body to rest, Deadman has become embroiled in the battle of Gotham City,  siding with the new Batman, Robin and Red Robin, as they square off against the Black Lanterns, bent on consuming the city….


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