Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Dead Man and the Pleasures of Limitation

Collins Ax (image from L & C Meeker)
For this post, I'm going to be more bloggy -- more ruminative -- but eventually I want to wend my way around to saying I've really enjoyed reading several titles of this pulpy, Kindle, horror-action-adventure series, The Dead Man. It's not for everybody, but it sure has its attractions...

Let me backtrack and first say, I like a good zombie movie. At their best, zombie movies have a compelling simplicity and purity. Characters fight for their lives against flesh-eating zombies. There isn't a lot of ambiguity. You can't reason with zombies, though you can outsmart them. In a semi-related way, I like a good junkie novel or movie. Again, everything is secondary (and far in the distance) to the need to fix. Characters have motivation and direction: toward the fix. In our chaotic, complex world, it's strangely refreshing to read about focus -- even when (or especially when) it's a dismal focus.

Certain genre rules provide focus and direction, too. I'd take a step back and say that confined, rhymed, highly structured poetry can be pleasing because of its constraints. I don't read much poetry, but I've seen a lot of free verse that runs too free.

So, back to The Dead Man series. Creators Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin have set up an episodic supernatural series (like an hour of television, for which The Dead Man was originally conceived). My knowledge of TV shows is thin, but The Dead Man set-up vaguely reminds me of The Fugitive. Our tall, dark, handsome, strong hero Matt Cahill is marginally on the run and he's also pursuing an evil supernatural figure, Mr. Dark (standing in, sort of, for The Fugitive's one-armed man). Matt goes from town to town (setting to setting) on his quest, and he usually hooks up with a helpful, beautiful woman.

And then there are a few supernatural rules and recurring events. Matt has survived sure death (buried in an avalanche for months) and now he can see and smell evil in people, which takes the form of festering, maggoty flesh and a terrible stench. These evil people appear normal to others, but for Matt, they are like zombies. A former mill worker and lumberjack, Matt also happens to travel with his trusty family ax. So basically, The Dead Man books -- all focused novellas of maybe 25,000 words -- have a lot of latitude but eventually dear reader is going to reach a point where there is mayhem and an ax. For now, it's working for me.

I started looking at these books with the idea of entering a contest to write a Dead Man book. Having once lived for many years in the shadow of the world's largest ax, hatchet, machete, and adze factory, I might just have an idea...

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