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Comic Book / Deadman

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"How can I find anything — when no one can hear me — or see me — or fear me?!"

"I may be a deadman, but I'm cursed with memories of the real world! I miss feeling the rain on my face [...] feeling what it's like to eat... to have the juice of a steak trickle down my throat like good wine!"
Deadman, Strange Tales #214

Boston Brand is a DC Comics character who was a circus trapeze artist that was assassinated during one of his performances. He returned to the world as a ghost and found that he had been given the ability to possess any living being by Rama Kushna, a powerful Hindu Goddess, so that he could find whoever killed him and earn some justice in the world. Still dressed in his circus costume, he continued to use his stage name: Deadman.

He first appeared in Strange Adventures #205 (October, 1967). Initially written by Arnold Drake and drawn by Carmine Infantino, although they got replaced by Jack Miller and Neal Adams until the character's story arc ended with Strange Adventures #216. He would go on to in team-ups with darker superheroes like Batman, The Phantom Stranger, and Swamp Thing for the rest of the twentieth century. He did get a couple of mini-series devoted to him, a four-issue one in 1987, a two-issue one in 1989, a five-issue one from 2001 to 2002, and a 13 issue run in 2006.

Still, he had little impact on the DC Universe as a whole until the Brightest Day storyline. Temporarily brought back to life as a White Lantern, Boston helped other revived characters come to terms with the world and befriended many more of DC's spookier characters, paving the way for his appearance as a member of the Justice League Dark once he was a ghost again. Outside of comic books, Deadman has been adapted into animation in the Justice League cartoon, an episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and the animated movie Justice League Dark.

Deadman also has a small supporting cast. They include Lorna, his lover in life and manager of his old circus, Tiny, a fiercely loyal strongman Deadman possesses when he needs Muscle, Cleveland Brand, Boston's identical twin brother who takes his place as the circus' trapeze artist, and Rama Kushna, the Hindu goddess who gave Deadman his powers and the mission to balance good and evil in the world. His main nemeses are Sensei and the Hook, both members of the League of Assassins that organized his murder.

Despite his background as a circus performer, neither the character himself, nor the comic that bears his name, are to be confused with Deadman Wonderland.

Deadman provides examples of the following tropes:

  • All Men Are Perverts: Tries to get Dove to engage in a lesbian kiss with June Moone while he's in control of the latter's body. It's implied that this wasn't Boston's fault, but a result of the Enchantress's madness affecting his personality. Although he did try to have sex with Dawn in the body of a random civilian, which was entirely his own idea.
  • All-Powerful Bystander: Part of a group with the Phantom Stranger and the Spectre in Crisis on Infinite Earths that watch the event unfold without using their cosmic powers to do much.
  • Alliterative Name: Boston Brand.
  • Arch-Enemy: Deadman's most consistent enemy is Sensei, a master assassin responsible for Brand being killed in the first place. He denied Deadman his chance at revenge by killing the man who directly killed him, brainwashed him into attacking Batman, and has repeatedly attacked the home of Rama Kushna and attempted to disrupt the balance Deadman fights to protect.
  • The Atoner: He's a Jerk with a Heart of Gold instead of a jerk, because he recognizes how he wasted his life and wants to do better in death by keeping others from meeting his fate.
  • Back from the Dead:
    • Boston Brand was a circus performer who was murdered during a circus act, and consequently forced to dwell in the Earthly realm as a ghost.
    • After Blackest Night, Boston was returned to the land of the living by the White Entity.
  • Barred from the Afterlife: Kinda. He can visit, but he never sticks around.
  • Bald Mystic: After coming back from the dead, he died and came back as a disembodied spirit who appears with a chalk-white bald head, which makes him look otherworldly.
  • Becoming the Costume: In a twist of fate, Boston's stage persona is based on performing death-defying acrobatics while ironically dressed as a ghost, giving him a costume and alias predating his superhero origin. Dying while in costume means he now looks like that all the time. Playing with the trope, his actual appearance didn't change and he eventually learns after a long time that he could take the mask off.
  • Body Surf: In The Brave and the Bold #86, a Brainwashed and Crazy Deadman rapidly possesses every bystander Batman passes down the street and compels them to attack the Bat. First, Commissioner Gordon tries to shoot Batman, then a blind guy tries to smack him with his walking stick, then a businessman throws a briefcase at him, and finally, a car tries to crash into Batman just as he grapples away.
  • The Chosen One: By Rama Kushna. Later by the White Entity in Brightest Day.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Uses his ghostly abilities in a multitude of ways. Turning enemies against each other, suddenly taking control of weapons, lots of tricky stuff.
  • Contract on the Hitman: The Hook was executed by the League of Assassins for failing to kill the circus aerialist Deadman, although ironically it turned out he hadn't actually failed - Boston Brand happened to have an identical twin brother who took his place in the act, leading to the confusion. This is standard League of Assassins fare; if you can't close the deal, you've got no place among the elite killers of the world.
  • Cosmic Plaything: Deadman's actions generally revolve around the whim of some higher being, whether it's Rama Kushna or the White Lantern Entity.
  • Cradling Your Kill: In The Brave and the Bold #104, Deadman shoots his new girlfriend Lily both to stop her from killing Batman and to keep her from going to jail for his murder. He rushes over to her (while possessing her ex-boyfriend, mind you) and holds her body waiting for a ghost to come out, in keeping with a promise by Rama Kushna that they'd be together in death. When nothing happens, Deadman exits the ex's body to confront Rama, leaving the poor guy holding his ex-girlfriend in his arms, a smoking gun in his hand, and no memory of how he got there.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Deadman may look like a pale specter who possesses people but he is firmly on the side of good.
  • Deader than Dead: If Deadman is killed while possessing someone, he dies permanently.
  • Death Activated Super Power: Deadman qualifies. Once a daredevil acrobat, he kept his small circus running by providing a ghoulish spectacle — performing death-defying stunts and high-wire acts without a safety net while wearing ghoulish makeup, luring in the crowds with the prospect of seeing him die. Then he got killed by some criminals who were using his circus as a front for a drug-smuggling operation, but came back — apparently due to being 'Favored by Rama Kushna', according to the circus's resident Indian fortune-teller and rope-trick master. Now he's a ghost, and thus wields a host of useful powers — including the ability to possess and control others. With this newfound power, he fights crime — starting with solving his own murder...
  • Death by Origin Story: The death that starts Deadman on his superhero career is that of circus performer Boston Brand. Who is, well, Deadman. The name kind of gives it away. Deadman's death was undone briefly during the Brightest Day crossover, but it didn't stick.
  • Demonic Possession: Deadman is capable of possessing any mortal being; upon which he is in complete control of their actions and in possession of their memories and powers, while they retain no recollection of the happening. It was granted to him by the Hindu goddess Rama Kushna.
  • Depending on the Artist: Most versions of Deadman looks like he did in costume when he was alive, but some artists like to show him looking more like a rotting corpse, or even a skeleton.
  • Depending on the Writer: He is either a friendly ghost who likes to joke around or a lonely guy who hates his lot in death?
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Strange Adventures #213 starts with a couple of panels of Deadman in Tiny's mind that are all black-and-white, while panels set in the physical world are in color.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: DC Comics Presents #24 sees Deadman, a dead acrobat, get into a fistfight with the Grim Reaper and win.
  • Discovering Your Own Dead Body: In Strange Adventures #205, Boston Brand is murdered during an acrobatics act. His ghost falls to the ground and thinks the other circus performers are telling a tasteless joke about covering his body until he sees it for himself.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: In Strange Adventures #214, Deadman possesses a man he sees doting on his girlfriend out of jealousy, only to learn that he's a hitman totally fine with cutting down fathers just a few feet away from their kids.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Deadman. His super-power is that he's dead.
  • First Time Feeling: After spending weeks and weeks unable to feel anything in his own body, Deadman enters into a state of euphoria upon entering Nanda Parbat and finding he's finally tangible again.
  • The Fog of Ages: A ghost called Tlaloc becomes convinced he's a god after spending centuries trapped within a sacred pyramid. Deadman recognizes that they're the same and has to appeal to his human longings to stir Tlaloc's buried memories of his mortal life.
  • Grand Theft Me: This is the entire concept behind Deadman, whose sole power is the ability to effortlessly possess anybody, from children to Superman. He was brought back to life at the end of Blackest Night, and in Brightest Day he appeared to be capable of restoring things to life. Then he died again.
  • The Greatest Story Never Told: Deadman's entire superhero career. Few know who he is since he's a ghost who can possess anyone. This means whoever he possesses is the one who will get credit (if at all in the first place). One memorable Christmas Episode had Boston Brand finally cracking and dealing with this trope. A Ret Goned Supergirl counsels him.
  • Historical Domain Character: The climatic confrontation between Deadman and the Devil in Mike Baron's run sees the two possess Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, and their wives and face off against each other as the Devil tries to trigger nuclear war.
  • Home Base: Nanda Parbat, a Shangri-La-like place which Rama Kushna watches over. Deadman can interact with living people normally there, so he sometimes visits there.
  • Immune to Mind Control: Deadman has a bad habit of encountering villains he can't possess in major storylines. The first of these is Sensei, an killer ordered the hit on Deadman, who Deadman can only fight by taking over the body of his own killer.
  • Intangibility: As a ghost, Deadman can also pass through physical objects.
  • Invisible to Normals: Deadman is a ghost and cannot be visibly perceived by other human beings. This is an automatic ability and one that Deadman has no control over. Beings gifted with supernatural prowess may be able to see Deadman's true form.
  • Irony: A flamboyant stuntman who loved showing off to crowds ends up being killed and becoming intangible and unseen to nearly everyone.
  • Jacob Marley Apparel: Deadman appears in the circus acrobat costume he was wearing when he was murdered. Ironically, the costume was designed to make him appear like a ghost.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: He is much more firmly entrenched in this trope than John Constantine, mostly because he hates being dead and unable to touch the people he loves.
  • Journey to the Center of the Mind: When Deadman's buddy Tiny is shot, Deadman possesses him and delves deep into his mind to try and strengthen Tiny's will to live. The comic visualize this with a series of psychedelic panels filled with shapeless ghosts and cerebral imagery, inter-cut with doctors in shock that Tiny still hasn't died.
  • Kill the Ones You Love: Deadman falls in love with a criminal he's spying on for Batman and she returns the feelings even when she learns Deadman has been possessing her boyfriend for weeks. However, when she finds out Batman is on her tail, she goes to shoot him. As a ghost himself, Deadman shoots her to spare her from rotting in prison with the hope that they'll be Together in Death, only for him to hold her corpse for minutes with no ghost manifesting. He takes this poorly.
  • Kryptonite Factor: The CIA uncovers some weird alien technology in a Mayan temple capable of rendering Deadman tangible, allowing them to briefly capture him.
  • Legacy Character: In Injustice: Gods Among Us, Deadman is killed, choosing Nightwing as his replacement.
  • Meaningful Name: As a ghost, you don't get any more meaningful than "Deadman".
  • Mundane Utility: Deadman possesses a guy, both because he needed to talk to someone, and because he wanted to taste a cheeseburger again.
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: Sometimes Deadman's powers don't really make sense. Sometimes he'll be able to possess paintings, giant crabs, aliens or other times read the memories of people he takes control of, even though those abilities are never shown before or since.
  • Never Mess with Granny: Part of the fun of Deadman's abilities is that he's just as good an acrobat in the body of a geriatric man or woman. It's not uncommon for him to leap over speeding cars in a grandma's body or jump ten feet onto the rooftop with an aging businessman's physique.
  • The Nicknamer: Calls Zatanna 'darling', and John 'con job'.
  • Possessing a Dead Body: He can do this, but it's not pleasant for him.
    • During a crossover with Green Lantern, he possesses a Serial Killer's latest victim to spook the guy. It spooks him so much he falls off a ladder and onto his own knife.
    • Attempted in Blackest Night when Deadman attempts to take control of his undead corpse. Unfortunately, the black ring powering it spits Deadman out.
  • Powers via Possession: Inverted. He hijacks people's bodies in order to use their powers, as the only power he has is being a dead acrobat- albeit that his acrobatic skill does often come in handy.
  • Pronoun Trouble: Sam is non-binary. Berenice corrects Deadman when he calls Sam "her" by stating that "Sam uses they/them pronouns" and "They're non-binary. Not a woman or a man. Just awesome".
  • Psychopomp: Sometimes helps other dead people pass on.
  • Rocketless Reentry: Mike Baron's run of Deadman stories begins with Boston brooding on a satellite way above the Earthand leaping off of it, diving through the atmosphere, and landing into an airplane on a drug-run. Obviously, Deadman doesn't have to worry about the safety of this maneuver.
  • Romantic Fakeā€“Real Turn: In an early crossover with Batman, Deadman ends up possessing a criminal and going on a couple of dates with his girlfriend to keep his cover. Unfortunately, having gone years without human affection, Deadman eventually falls for the girl and abandons Batman's operation in hopes that he can convince her to go straight. The problem is, she finds out he was working with the cops and she tries to kill him and Bruce, forcing Deadman to pull the trigger on her. Angsting ensues.
  • Sense Loss Sadness: In Strange Adventures #214, Deadman succumbs to despair and loneliness after going months without being able to eat good food, drink something cold, or even hug someone he loves. He gets so sad that he possesses a young man he sees on a date with a beautiful woman just so he could feel what a normal life is like just for a little bit.
  • Series Goal: Deadman's goal in Strange Adventures and his early appearances is to find the man who killed him and bring him to justice. After that plotline gets wrapped up, he spends most of his later appearances on a mission from Rama Kushna to bring balance to good and evil.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Deadman's original quest to avenge his own death ends with Deadman possessing the killer's body to try and save his life from a far-worse villain, the assassin Sensei. Deadman loses badly, his killer is killed by another man, and Sensei gets away just after letting Deadman know he ordered his murder at random, and that he wasn't significant to him or the murderer at all. The whole thing leaves him feeling empty and permanently sours his relationship with the God who made him a ghost.
  • Shout-Out: In Action Comics # 606, Deadman asks a devil if the part of Hell they're in was designed by Dante Alighieri. The devil says that section was made in his honor, since he was a great publicist.
  • Skull for a Head: Deadman is sometimes depicted as just having a skull instead of his daredevil mask, as he was in Kingdom Come.
  • Terror Hero: When he wants to, he can haunt people very well. Don't wanna wake up hanging out a window by your ankles or on the edge of a skyscraper? Then don't piss off Deadman.
  • They Call Him "Sword": The member of the League of Assassin's Seven Men of Death who murdered Boston Brand goes by "Hook".
  • Together in Death: Deadman interprets a prophecy from Rama Kushna to mean that his new love, a criminal named Lily, will become a ghost when she dies and they can be together forever. He's so confident in this he decides to Mercy Kill her rather than let her murder a man and rot in jail. The trope is subverted, when Deadman slowly realizes she's just gone and he's going to be alone yet again.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Cheeseburgers. Sometimes he'll even possess somebody just to get a taste.
  • Tragic Intangibility: Deadman's first appearances would often have him try to touch something, pass through it, and rant aloud about how the killer has taken everything from him. In the first issue, it's just a mouse but in the second issue, he fails to wipe a tear from his lover's face and despairs.
  • Twin Switch: Brand's twin brother Cleveland took up his act after he died. It eventually got him killed too.
  • Unfinished Business: Deadman's original reason for sticking around as a ghost. Rama Kushna allowed him to possess people to hunt down his killer.
  • Vengeance Feels Empty: When Deadman finally sees the man who killed him dead at his phantasmal feet, he finds it brings him no satisfaction. He's so infuriated by this that he demands the god who brought him back to explain why he was cheated out of satisfaction.
  • We Want Our Jerk Back!: When John is unable to lie in the Books of Magic arc, Boston complains about John's newfound sincerity.
  • Villain: Exit, Stage Left: The second-to-last issue of Deadman's first storyline ends with all the assassins who conspired to kill him disappearing while he's dazed from a failed possession. He's left alone and unsatisfied with his murderer's corpse dead at the hands of a man besides himself.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Boston is brought back to life when he travels to a parallel universe brimming with unpredictable magic, and promptly killed.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are:
    • In Brightest Day, Dove tells Boston Brand (the now alive Deadman) this after he deflects her questions about his past life with claims that he wasn't anyone special.
    • In the famous Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot, a Ret-Gone Supergirl reminds Deadman that he doesn't need the glory of superheroing — he does it because it's the right thing to do.
  • You Can See Me?: Deadman is shocked when a CIA agent first repels his attempt at possession and then sees his normally invisible form. It turns out that she can do this because she's also possessed by a deadman.