DeadEndia: The Watcher’s Test by Hamish Steele is the kind of graphic novel we need. Featuring a diverse cast of smart, quippy characters, DeadEndia takes the readers on a supernatural adventure while taking care to address the issues many young twenty-somethings have to deal with: unfulfilling jobs, confusing relationships, and the sudden apocalypse brought on by a demon with weird hair. Catering to an audience of both teens and people in their early twenties, DeadEndia is a colorful comic journey that promotes friendship, love, and acceptance.
Norma works as a tour guide at the Dead End haunted house in a Dollywood-esque theme park, Pollywood. She gets her friend, Barney, a job at the theme park as a janitor. Unbeknownst to her, Barney and his dog, Pugsley are now living at Dead End because Barney is currently homeless. Unbeknownst to Barney, Dead End is a portal to the demon world manned by Courtney, a 912 -year- old demon. The gang is rounded out by two other Pollywood employees: Logan, the log flume operator, and Badyah, the Deathslide operator. Each chapter is a new adventure for the team. They experience demonic possessions, battle community center demon cults, deal with random appearances by ninjas who want to kill them, and ponder a pop star who may or may not be the possessed remains of a desiccated corpse, And then everyone dies.
But wait! Take it back now ya’ll. Norma, Barney, and Pugsley find themselves as ghosts 10,000 years into the future. They have been brought back by a mysterious being who calls themselves The Watcher. It turns out the trio died in the great demonic apocalypse and The Watcher is trying to prevent it from happening by bottling the ghosts of those who died during it and then sending them back to fight. The random ninjas weren’t so random after all! After a bit of confusing Back to the Future-ing in which the gang ends up dying all over again, The Watcher is revealed to be none other than Pugsley…from the future…or past…but really the demon that initially possessed Pugsley. Possessed past Pugsley figures out that the only way to prevent the apocalypse is to kill the demon inside. In order to save the ones that he loves and prevent himself from turning into The Watcher, Pugsley must destroy himself. It is a powerful ending to an action-packed tale.
The writing style of DeadEndia is cool, intelligent, and downright funny. The author exudes care in creating believable and relatable characters even if the story itself is mired in the supernatural. At the beginning of each chapter there is a clever introduction to each of the main characters. Similar to a dating profile, the characters are introduced along with some fun facts about them, including their preferred pronouns, their likes and dislikes, and their family situation. It allows the characters’ personalities to shine through.
The writing compliments the artwork very well. The bright colors bounce off the page but don’t do anything to deter from the story. Spend some time on each panel and really soak up the details. It is refreshing to see that attention to detail in particular when it came to the personality of the characters and especially in Barney’s transition. Flashback scenes reveal just how much Barney has changed, both physically and emotionally. Both the external and the internal transition come through with the artwork.
DeadEndia is an important graphic novel for the current cultural and political climate. There are few graphic novels with trans characters and fewer still that delve deeper into that character’s background and history. This graphic novel has an incredibly diverse cast of characters and is a perfect example of the kind of comic that promotes kindness, patience, and understanding. DeadEndia: The Watcher’s Test is appropriate for ages 12 and up. There is some violence but it is not gratuitous. Those that enjoy DeadEndia would also enjoy Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki, Giant Days by John Allison, and The Backstagers by James Tynion IV. Each of these comics have queer and diverse characters and focus on growing up and friendship.
The world is a tough place without friends and acceptance. Young adults are looking for their tribe and can find it in DeadEndia. This graphic novel is a ray of sunshine on an otherwise cloudy day.
DeadEndia, vol. 1: The Watcher’s Test
by Hamish Steele
Publisher Age Rating: 12+