By Vernon Miles
Robin Hood has remained the prototypical thief who steals from the corrupt. Whether the legendary outlaw was stopping other bandits or cutting crooked rulers down to size, a modern thief of thieves can trace their modus operandi back to the 16th-century archer. But according to legend, the Robin Hood stories eventually end with Richard the Lionhearted returning, offering truth and justice for the antihero.
If only Dead Rabbit could retire to a similarly happy ending. Written by Gerry Duggan (Analog), drawn by John McCrea (Mythic), and colored by Mike Spicer (Extremity), the titular gunman is Martin, a legendary vigilante thief who ran rampant in Boston throughout the ’90s. He gained infamy by stealing from local drug-peddling gangs and corrupt corporate entities alike. After a final score, Dead Rabbit believes that he’s earned enough to put the mask aside and retire. But thieves come in many shapes, and in the years following his retirement, the broader forces that profit from the misery of others have whittled away at Martin’s haul. Chiefly, his wife Megan was diagnosed with a terminal, debilitating disease that forces Martin back into a workforce that abuses cheap labor—a corporate retail chain. Frustrated and desperate, an aged Martin puts his mask back on.
Dead Rabbit is an outlet into which Duggan pours his own pent-up rage at an abusive system. The scribe is no stranger to absurd and gritty masked heroes, with extensive experience writing characters like Deadpool and Batman, but Dead Rabbit presents his own personal magnum opus.
“I think this is my saddest, funniest, and most violent collaboration, and that really is saying something,” Duggan says. “It's one of my favorite character introductions as well. Wait until you see what John and Mike Spicer have cooked up for you.”
McCrea is, likewise, no stranger to urban jungles crawling with gun-toting predators. McCrea is the Eisner-winning artist for DC’s Hitman, which was written by Garth Ennis and ran throughout the late '90s. Dead Rabbit takes place in a Boston that McCrea says lies just a few years in the future where the sociological gap continues to widen.
“The book is set slightly in the future where everything is much the same, just slightly more fucked up,” McCrea says. “I decided to have lots of things broken or breaking—everywhere you look, stuff is falling apart and society is trying to keep up, but it's all just sticking plasters.”
Duggan chose the setting based on his own time in the city, where he attended Emerson College. “I worked in the pubs and saw it all,” Duggan remembers. “The Combat Zone [an area in downtown Boston] was still a dangerous place to be, and frankly, so were the bars. I always had my head on a swivel when I left Bill's Bar. It was across the street from Fenway Park, and I left with cash every night. Boston really felt… untamed at that point in time. I once saw a cop and a homeless gentleman wrestle in the alley behind my building, and when it was finally over, everybody from the nearby buildings applauded, and the cop tipped his cap. It's a city with a lot of character… maybe too much. I love that city.”
Duggan witnessed a Boston full of passionate people, for better or worse, surrounded by a threat of constant danger that infuses every scene in Dead Rabbit. As Martin descends into his previous life, the action escalates to kinetic and intense new heights. McCrea says much of his approach comes from older noir stories. Threats hide in heavy shadows. But McCrea says getting the smaller, emotional moments between characters is just as important in Dead Rabbit.
“It's all to do with getting the facial expressions and body language right,” McCrea says. “I often act out these sort of scenes to get the idea of how to convey the emotion behind them. Hopefully, combined with great dialogue and good storytelling, it will make the quiet scenes as powerful as the action-packed ones.”
The core of this emotional storytelling lies in Martin’s relationship with Megan. His aspirations are benevolent, embracing his former vice to pay for her medical care. But his secret threatens the foundation of their relationship. And to complicate the situation further, Martin’s return as Dead Rabbit hasn’t escaped the notice of those he swindled decades ago.
“The mob holds a grudge because they think Dead Rabbit killed the perpetrator of a heist and slipped away with the money,” Duggan explains. “The mafia are the first to cause trouble for Dead Rabbit, but they won't be the last.”
For the scribe, Dead Rabbit is a worrying vision of where America is heading as it enters the violent throes of late-stage capitalism, a term for the point when the oppressive mechanisms of the system reach critical mass, driving an immovable wedge between the rich and poor.
“Dead Rabbit's a thief, but he'll rarely be the biggest or worst thief in these stories,” Duggan says. “America is really suffering through late-stage capitalism. After the cynically named Citizens United decision, the wheels really came off our democracy. Corporations write the laws, and the politicians they buy protect their interests.”
Dead Rabbit channels those anxieties into a character who can strike back.
“[This is] not how 21st-century American life should be,” Duggan laments. “We could do better. I don't have a mask to put on, but I can slip into Dead Rabbit's skin and fantasize about doing bad things for the right reasons... It's immoral that our health and well-being are monetized. I'm not against doctors and nurses making a living, of course, but this country needs socialized medicine. The people that tell you we can't have it, or it will never work, are profiting from the status quo. As the series progresses, you'll see how Dead Rabbit moves to put these villains into focus. He's going to have problems with the mafia, the cops, other crooks, and in the meantime, the biggest villains we'll see are the people that profit from this kind of misery.”
Dead Rabbit #1 releases in comic stores on October 3, 2018.