We Only Find Them When They’re Dead Is a Hauntingly Beautiful Comic About Strip-Mining God

It’s rare that a comic book can make slicing up hunks of celestial flesh one of the most soothing sights of the week, and yet, here we are.

Out this week from Boom Studios, the first issue of Al Ewing and Simone di Meo’s We Only Find Them When They’re Dead — featuring colours from Mariasara Miotti and lettering by AndWorld Design — is a futuristic examination of a human civilisation that has become plagued by resource shortages. At their wits’ end, humans have taken to the stars to look for succour — and on the edge of known space, they find it with the sudden appearance of massive interstellar deities.

Sort of.

Illustration: Jim Cooke

You see, it’s in the title, really. We Only Find Them When They’re Dead isn’t a sci-fi tale about divine intervention in humanity’s last days, in the manner we might expect from the above premise. Instead, it’s far more weirdly tragic: the gods that appear in this 24th century tale — at regular noon intervals, heralded by the sound of eight bells — aren’t living beings, but vast cosmic corpses. Which humanity, as it has with the rest of the cosmos, promptly begins devouring for parts.

Image: Simone di Meo and Mariasara Miotti/Boom Studios

We Only Find Them When They’re Dead follows the exploits of the crew of the mining ship Vihaan II — Captain Georges Malik, coroner Ella Hauer, quartermaster Alice Wirth, and engineer Jason Hauer — as they, like many miners around them, gather at the edge of space to prepare slicing apart every inch of the incoming divine dead. While there are eventually further hints about the world around them and what’s to come for the crew (mostly poking at the idea of a somewhat authoritarian government that strictly regulates the autopsy process with a decidedly lethal force), this is an issue that deftly handles swaths of worldbuilding without just dumping a mass of information on you.

From the cosmic scope of the first sight of the dead god, to the electric race as ships take which of the most valuable parts of her corpse each crew has legally claimed to mine as their own, this issue is one of the most sumptuous debuts of 2020. Di Meo’s crisp linework and Miotti’s lush use of bright, bold colour gives a painterly eye to page after page of spectacle. Everything from celestial vistas to the tiniest bit of mining tech aboard Malik’s ship is treated as equally fascinating and vivid, leading to an incredible sense of contrast as we are asked to consider the divine and the decidedly mundane in equal, heady measure. Our heroes are strip-mining the body of an almighty, incomprehensible being. But none of them are in awe — this is their life, they’ve seen it all before. They do their jobs, they follow their orders. Slices of God are carved away with intimate, delicate precision, to the point you kind of forget that they’re slices of God.

Image: Simone di Meo, Mariasara Miotti, and AndWorld Design/Boom Studios

But even among the beauty the issue finds in what is presented as a mostly banal process to our characters, there is a pervasive sense of dread and tragedy that haunts every page of We Only Find Them When They’re Dead. Even aside from the state that humanity finds itself in, or the hints of the sinister ruling powers behind that state, for every gorgeous moment of presentation there is a quick reminder of the tragedy to what you’re watching unfold. The Vihaan II and its fellows aren’t called mining ships, they’re autopsy ships. The ship’s very name, the familial links between its crew, imply a dread process that humanity has participated in out of desperation for generations. The initial tension as the gathered fleet of rival vessels waits in the moments before the corpse appears is as palpable as it is gorgeous to watch unfold — and it’s a tension left unreleased until well after the Vihaan II has acquired its load.

Even when it has, there’s a solemnity to it all that hits home just really how desperate and grim not just Malik’s prospects are, but humanity itself. There’s a moment where quartermaster Alice comments on the simple ballet of it all, drones carrying massive chunks of a god’s flesh to be immaculately sliced up with laser beams and neatly deposited into storage cubes like it’s a premium steak and not an abstract reminder of this vast corpse. Malik, haunted by a lifetime of this process, is quick to reminder her that it decidedly isn’t, and you as a reader in turn are almost snapped out of the haze that di Meo and Miotti’s visuals have just spent pages lulling you into. For as rapturous as its lush visuals are, you are immediately re-shocked when the stark realities of what they’re depicting are called into question.

Image: Simone di Meo, Mariasara Miotti, and AndWorld Design/Boom Studios

We Only Find Them When They’re Dead #1 ultimately only pokes at the sense of a story to come — ideas that will no doubt propel Malik and the crew of the Vihaan II. But our first window into its sci-fi world is an incredibly potent one nonetheless.