Welcome to R.I.P.D., the Rest in Peace Department. As members of Heaven’s eternal enforcement division, law enforcement officers who have been killed in action are charged to protect mankind from the ghouls and demons that threaten them. Enter—or rather, exit—Detective Nick Cruz, an up-and-coming detective killed in the line of duty. Cruz is offered a promising afterlife deal: the chance to solve his own murder. Too bad he forgot to read the fine print and his contract binds him to one hundred years of service with the R.I.P.D. Rookie Cruz is partnered with Sheriff Roy Powell, a rugged cowboy lawman who is only three weeks away from his long-awaited retirement. Cruz’s first case is going to be Powell’s last.
The story has two intersecting plotlines: Cruz’s vengeful pursuit of his killer and the R.I.P.D.’s search for Michael’s sword. Forged to kill Lucifer, the archangel’s legendary weapon was lost on Earth for centuries before falling into the hands of demons who seek to overthrow Hell. However, Matt Lunsford’s graphic novel simply isn’t long enough to allow for the world-building that would add necessary depth to its two-point story. With more development of its plot and characters, R.I.P.D. would have been an excellent read. At the same time, the story struggles to find the right balance in tone. It’s not quite a dark comedy; its humor, tragedy, and violence never harmonize as a united whole. Nevertheless, R.I.P.D. is a fun read for fans of chaos, mayhem, and one-liners. The plot moves quickly towards its resolution in the tradition of adventure stories and action movies, and its dialogue boasts some excellent quips.
R.I.P.D. is a visually compelling adventure that encourages the reader to overlook its narrative flaws. Sheriff Powell appears to have stepped directly out of the Wild West, with Custer-like blond locks and a special edition six-shooter in a hip holster that John Wayne would be proud to own. Nick Cruz makes an excellent modern police detective with spikey hair and a rumpled suit, who would not be out of place on Law and Order or CSI. The denizens of Hell and its demon hordes are colorfully well-cast, from the three-headed dog who guards Hell to a menacingly majestic depiction of Satan himself—not to mention the evilly adorable imp who challenges his rule. Death is brutal and graphic, unflinching in blood and spattered viscera. Dante would be proud of this Hell.
Dark Horse rates R.I.P.D. as appropriate for ages 12 and up. It’s likely that teenage boys will be especially attracted to this book, most of all those who are fans of the film—though it is worth noting that there are major differences between the comic and its adaptation. In terms of content, parents may have concerns about the story’s violence, including the rather graphic murder of a priest. Some parents may also find the demon-heavy storyline disturbing, even though it is steeped in Christian mythos—the R.I.P.D. works for the Big Man Himself on the side of the angels, and the story suggests that God wants Satan’s potential killer to be stopped because “the Devil you know is better than the Devil you don’t know.”
Fans of Men in Black are likely to enjoy this tale of law enforcement beyond the grave.
by Matt Lunsford
Art by Lucas Marangon
Dark Horse, 2003
Publisher Age Rating: 12+