DRIVER FOR THE DEAD (2011)
Like most people my age I know, I grew up with comic books. I could extol upon the virtues of the medium, the perfect harmony between the cerebral depth of books and the visual fluidity of cinema, the evolution of the medium into a respectable art form. But really, I just liked seeing Ghost Rider putting the smack-down on the Hulk. I was a Marvel zombie until the early 90s, when it became less a fun pastime and more a speculative venture of multiple-cover embossed issues, and Wolverine/Punisher appearances in everything in order to make completists fork out their dollars (as opposed to when I was a kid and they were Still Only 25 Cents!
But I still indulge from time to time, my tastes having expanded beyond the Marvel house of Ideas. And thankfully, too, or I wouldn’t have discovered DRIVER FOR THE DEAD, a three-issue miniseries released in 2011 from Radical Publishing. DRIVER was created by John Heffernan, who wrote the script for SNAKES ON A PLANE, which you might have heard of, and drawn by Leonardo Manco, an Argentine artist who has worked for both Marvel and DC on titles such as WAR MACHINE, HELLBLAZER and DRUID.
It opens in the Deep South, in Shreveport, Louisiana, as elderly black exorcist Moses Freeman (who bears a not so subtle resemblance as well as surname to Morgan Freeman) arrives at the house of a couple who son has taken ill with a strange malady conventional doctors can’t cure – hence their summoning Moses. Displaying detective skills as well as knowledge of hoodoo, Moses determines that the boy has been bewitched by a former nanny the couple recently fired. The boy is possessed by some fierce demons, and though Moses is victorious, it’s at the cost of his life – though not before giving the couple a card, with the name of a man they must contact to collect his body. A man named Alabaster Graves.
We cut to our eponymous hero, the most unusual hearse driver you’ll ever see. For one thing, his hearse is a souped-up Pontiac GTO emblazoned with the name Black Betty and carrying an arsenal of weapons. For another, the bodies he takes to their final resting place are of the super natural variety, whether it’s werewolves, vampires, witches or zombies. He’s a deadpan Cajun who lives for the next paycheck and the next beer, who’s been transporting bodies since his days in the Army, bringing home KIA comrades to their families.
Now Graves is hired to collect Moses’ body, and Moses’ nubile great-granddaughter Marissa, to their family plot in New Orleans as quickly as possible, though Marissa, who’s been kept ignorant of Moses’ powers and reputation, doesn’t understand why. But we soon learn why, as we meet Fallow, a 200-year-old necromancer who stays alive by taking the body parts of others – and gains power by taking the parts of those with supernatural abilities. And if he can get the heart of Moses for himself, who knows how powerful he could get?
In interviews, creator Heffernan likened DRIVER OF THE DEAD to a supernatural version of the Jason Statham TRANSPORTER films. This description is very apt, and I could easily see Statham in the movie version of this, crashing into zombie cops and flinging one-liners. Marco’s artwork complements this beautifully; there are wonderful, atmospheric shots of forbidding manors, dark bayous and decrepit cemeteries, and action scenes bereft of dialogue that make it feel like a comic book adaptation of a forgotten 80s action flick.
There is a great deal of realistic-seeming research both into the intricacies of voodoo and other magicks, as well as Louisiana history and locales (I just returned from a vacation to the Big Easy, and this took me back). The characters, by comparison, are cardboard cutouts, not exactly multilayered – WATCHMEN, this isn’t – but again, this is the writer of SNAKES ON A PLANE, and really, it works for the story (hey, the hero’s name is Alabaster Graves!). But as the story unfolds, and Fallow gets closer to his ultimate goal, Graves learns more about himself, and his true role in the supernatural world.
It’s not perfect. The opening exorcism scene with Moses, while setting the tone of the story and showing us how powerful he is, goes on too long. There are numerous scenes of Fallow collecting organs from people with special talents, and they all follow the same pattern: we see his potential victim helping ordinary folk, we see Fallow or his undead crew murder the ordinary folk, and then Fallow takes the body parts he wants while spouting some pithy dialogue (though these are the scenes where we get some really cool gore shots). And a couple of the menaces Graves faces gets defeated a little too quickly.
But these are minor quibbles. I’d recommend getting these issues, and hope that Heffernan and Manco reunite for another of Alabaster Graves’ adventures – and that Hollywood thinks about making this into a badass movie with Statham, Nic Cage or Bruce Willis. Someone’s made a motion-comic “trailer” for the series here on YouTube, and you can purchase the series through numerous outlets.
And maybe Santa could get me a Black Betty of my own? Please?
Writer: John Heffernan
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Gore: 7 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 3.5 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Derek “Deggsy” O’Brien