Debuting later this month from Image Comics, The Dying & The Dead is the latest collaboration between Jonathan Hickman and Ryan Bodenheim, following A Red Mass For Mars and Secret. I was able to read issue #1 in advance, in the form of a lettered "first draft," and it is immediately notable for three reasons in particular: The Dying & The Dead takes a decidedly more personal approach to the theme of mortality that Hickman's been exploring in epic fashion in his New Avengers and East of West projects; the artwork by Bodenheim is his career best, not just in terms of technical drawing ability, but in the sense of pure graphic storytelling; and the huge page count makes a compelling case for big first issues.

At sixty pages for $4.50, the first issue is not just an uncommon value for your dollar, but it also introduces its characters and the mysterious, mythic world they inhabit in a truly dramatic and immersive way that would have been hopelessly compromised by the typical 20-page comic book periodical model. Subsequent issues will also defy tradition with respect to page counts.

As for the story itself, it focuses primarily on a mortal (and moral) choice put to its protagonist, an aging American military hero with an opportunity to confound the circle of life itself and rescue his wife from certain death by cancer. This is the personal angle I referenced above, which is depicted quite explicitly in the teaser we've included here, recalling Orpheus' journey into the underworld to rescue Eurydice from Hades. But as we've come to expect from Hickman, the scope widens considerably from there. Availing himself of a miracle will cause the hero to become ensnared in a dark, violent, and seemingly supernatural conflict between ancient subterranean factions whose literal roots go back to the beginning of civilization. As Image has described it in some promotional material, The Dying & The Dead is "Indiana Jones for Old People."

Most of Hickman's work outside of Marvel has been with artists whose work invokes a kind of expansive and hyper-detailed European style, as opposed to the Kirby influence we're used to seeing in superhero comics, and Bodenheim has certainly done that with his work here. Enhanced by the color art of Michael Garland, Bodenheim's images have never looked better.

For these reasons and more, The Dying & The Dead #1 simply demands attention -- not just from Hickman and Bodenheim's readers and those intrigued by what they see and read here, but from comic book retailers interested in deploying new sales models in their stores. The book goes on sale January 28 in print and digitally.