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Shuffle On This Mortal Coil...

Accept no body.

Though long a maxim of comics, since superheroes constantly resurrect, know that here, it has a very different meaning. That dire three word warning shows up as a come-on on the back of the first Mortal Coils trade paperback, lurid, threatening and yet strangely inviting to fans of horror. Though a bit of blood and viscera do appear in the stories that wait within, writer A. David Lewis has something a bit more psychological in mind.

"Bodylines," as this collection is called, serves as an introduction to a vast conspiracy to avoid fate. Cleverly on Lewis' part, this transcends religious belief and ecological concerns, though those believed by religion seem rather concerned. Quite simply, something is going to happen to reality as we know it, and a group of people are determined to control it, even if they have to commit greater evils in the meantime.

Read as individual stories, the tales included here wouldn't give you a clue as to the greater plot. (A couple still don't - yet.) Instead, and this is the good conceit of Mortal Coils, each story stands on its own as a disturbing meditation on life, death and the morality that lies between.

Some stand out for their science fiction elements, such as "Deeper Blue," the tale of a man being hunted by androids killers. The title works as both allusion and metaphor for the story itself. Regardless, it's a gripping short story, proving that that artform is far from dead. Indeed, as smart as Mortal Coils is, it wouldn't work if it weren't also terribly entertaining.

A couple of tales might even challenge your own sense of ethics. Last year, I'd picked up the third issue on its own, with its stories of an unusual grief counselor and a miracle cure for Alzheimer's Disease. That latter may have become even more timely in the intervening months, and the second time around became even more thought-provoking. Again, how the stories fit into the larger puzzle doesn't matter here; their significance unfolds as slowly as the finely played chess match on the cover of the trade. (And there's that Deep Blue again…)

Each story has a different illustrator, with varying results. For the most part, they're solid and similar, though Jesus Barony stands out with his work on the one color piece, "The Line." Sometimes the choice of subject and artist turns out to be excellent, such as with the first story that clearly links the rest together, "Dungeon Horrible." J.K. Woodward uses a style much lusher than the rest of the book, reminiscent of Stephen Bissette's work, and it wakes the reader up.

The trade gathers a few extras in, including sketches from artists who have not yet been persuaded to do a full story. One of the more bizarre inclusions is a strange meta-fictional talkshow, which I think may have come from a webcomic, called "These Things Happen." It's the weakest part of the book because it starts calling too much attention to how hard Lewis is working at being clever. The end of the trade includes annotations that I both appreciated and grew annoyed by; it became too easy to cheat while playing spot that reference. And it makes it harder for a reader of the trade to draw his own conclusions about what a story might mean. Don't let us see the man behind the curtain.

Of course, that's a temptation that's hard to avoid with a work this literate. With all kinds of critical acclaim and a foreword from Mark Waid (who must know what he's talking about), it's clear that Mortal Coils is a series that should be better known than it is.

So Fanboy Planet adds to the clamor: this is disturbing stuff. But I mean that in a good way.

Derek McCaw

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