Spotlight On… Indie Comics – “Death Sentence”

Death Sentence 1a

We’ve all imagined what it would be like to have superpowers, haven’t we? To soar through the skies, lift tanks above our head or fire lasers out of our eyes. But what if there was a downside, what if you could have these amazing abilities, but you were given just six months to live. Would you still do it? This is the innovative idea presented in the comic series, Death Sentence where superpowers are an STD that also give you a massively-reduced life expectancy. Written by Monty Nero, the anarchic series has ran for three volumes that have focused on the misadventures of Verity and Weasel; two terminally-powered individuals who find themselves opposed to the British government and its attempts to contain the sexually-transmitted pandemic.

The first volume of Death Sentence was released back in 2013 and introduces the concept of the G+ virus through its three core protagonists: Verity, a depressed failed artist; Weasel, a junkie musician and Monty, a narcissistic comedian and sex addict. Each of them begins to manifest powers as a result of the virus, with Monty becoming excessively powerful to the point where he can control minds, pop skulls and harness telekinetic powers. Monty Nero’s script is razor-sharp and the art from Mike Dowling has a gritty realism that suits the darkness of the storyline. There is an epic scale to the adventure with significant casualties and world-changing events taking place over the six issues; as Monty’s powers grow, his grip on reality begins to loosen. The final climactic battle in London feels reminiscent of Akira and Dowling’s artwork nails the cinematic tone perfectly.

A clear labour of love between writer and artist, as evidenced by the behind-the-scenes commentary in the back of the book, the first volume of Death Sentence is truly something special. It captures the rebellious spirit of Mark Millar and Alan Moore, and a punk attitude that only British comics seem to possess. Capitalising on the perfect “elevator pitch” of “superpowers as an STD”, Monty Nero creates a balls-to-the-wall story that pulls no punches and makes no compromises. This isn’t a book for the faint-hearted with prime ministers getting decapitated (ironic giving that particular PM’s penchant for severed pig heads) and the Queen getting a good seeing-to; luckily Nero and Dowling choose to leave that particular visual to the audience’s imagination.

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The second volume, Death Sentence: London, came out in 2015 and featured a change in artist with Martin Simmonds joining Monty Nero to continue the story of Weasel and Verity. Simmonds’ painted art is incredible and maintains that same griminess that Dowling provided in the first volume. Playing to Simmonds’ strengths, this particular story-arc showcases Verity’s powers more as she becomes ‘Art Girl’ with her psychedelic patterns populating the painted panels (try saying that after a few beers). This series also introduces two new super-powered individuals with Roots, a weed dealer who can control and grow plants; and Retch, a street gangster whose decaying touch can kill. Simmonds’ painted artwork brings both power sets to life fantastically, with Retch’s necrotic aura rising off the page. He also does a fantastic job visualising the Goemels; terrifying body-horror monstrosities that the government make use of to target “Super-G’s”.

Taking place immediately in the aftermath of David Montgomery’s attack in London, Death Sentence: London focuses on the repercussions of a large-scale terrorist attack and the government’s attempts to restore calm and reduce casualties from the G+ pandemic. Monty Nero must have a crystal ball tucked away somewhere because some of the story here (written in 2015) is frighteningly prescient in regards to the government reaction to COVID-19, including a certain mop-haired politician deciding to break his own rules. Monty Nero’s script focuses less on shock value in this volume and instead explores some interesting themes about class division, freedom vs. security, the government’s reaction (or lack thereof) to a crisis and the contempt (consciously or not) that politicians have for those they serve. The more political-driven storyline, coupled with Martin Simmonds’ art, results in an even more mature tone for the book that extends beyond its ultra-violence and graphic sexual content.

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The current volume, Death Sentence: Liberty has been crowd-funded and released through Kickstarter since late-2018, allowing Monty Nero and Martin Simmonds complete freedom to finish the story in their own manner. Still a work in progress, this volume picks up directly from the aftermath of Death Sentence: London and further explores the social inequalities between classes. Simmonds’ artwork contains to evoke an emotional response in its readers, particularly the final full-page of a lead character getting eaten alive by goats. It is a gut-punch of a cliff-hanger, and one that showcases Monty Nero’s willingness to break from the norm.

The rest of the series has been written, drawn and lettered by Monty Nero himself, turning these final three issues into a real personal journey for the series’ creator. Nero’s artwork focuses on the facial expressions of his characters, tapping into the thoughts and feelings of his creations. His panels featuring the London Mayor capture the despicable essence of the character (and his real-life counterpart) and his artistic style suits the darker direction that the plot is headed.

The artwork on all three series has been phenomenal and Monty Nero has secured some of the best and brightest artistic talent to supply variant covers for the Kickstarter projects with art from Ben Oliver, Ben Willsher and Luke Ross. With plenty of perks for those willing to invest in the project, Kickstarter has proven to be an ideal location for the series allowing fans to be part of the collaborative process by helping fund the comic’s creation and receive limited-edition bonuses such as additional variants, or even the opportunity to be featured on one of the covers.

Death Sentence is a stunning example of British comics, capturing the balls-out attitude and razor-sharp satire that seems lacking in most American comics. Monty Nero deserves adulation within the industry not only for his entrepreneurship in getting the comic made and in the hands of his readers, but also for making it intensely readable and meaningful at the same time.


You can pledge to support Death Sentence: Liberty on Kickstarter. Find out more about Monty’s work at MontyNero.com, follow him on Twitter @MontyNero, and pick up previous volumes of Death Sentence via Monty’s e-store.

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