There is some definite ambition here, and that always counts for something. And the art is very good, and surprisingly cohesive considering the number of different artists. Breno Tamura and Gus Storms draw the two main stories, with Kyle Strahm and Joe Infurnari each handling a few shorter scenes, and they all have their own unique styles, but there's a clear common ground between them, too. The art is consistently a little gritty and a little loose.
The opening story, presumably titled "The Lead Years" (the titles of each section are only named on the inside cover credits page, so I have to assume they go in the order they're listed, more or less), is Tamura's, and is the sketchiest, artistically, though not in a bad way. His lines are jagged and jittery, which matches the fluidity of the storytelling. The narrative is told is a pretty rushed manner in this section, all caption boxes summarizing things past. That's a weakness, but the art makes it a bit stronger, with its sense of constant motion pushing the story forward.
The story itself is tired old material about a new crime family's rise to power. There's not a new idea to be found here, just the same old "We did crime better than the criminals we replaced," bullshit as always. Until the end when, surprise surprise, an even younger and newer criminal makes a move against them. Though the move he makes is brutal and inventive in its violence, and drawn with what felt like just the right amount of excess gore by Tamura, it's still expected. And because it is the ending of the story (which is only eleven pages long) it doesn't lead us anywhere yet. So not a lot of reason to come back to this particular story, really, since everything that happens here is formulaic and dull.
There is then a four-page horror scene that I have to assume is the "Flashback 1" credited to Kyle Strahm. It's the best part of the issue, a standalone short that's effectively disturbing. I have no idea what the hell a guy getting killed by wolves (or maybe they're monsters?) in the middle of a flock of sheep has to do with the larger story of this series, but I enjoyed this interlude thoroughly all the same. Strahm does fear really well, and creepy animals even better, and that's essentially all there is to this piece. A terrified, jumpy dude confronts a bunch of creepy animals and gets devoured for it. Straightforward but haunting material.
Finally, there is the last story, "The Dead Years," drawn mostly by Gus Storms with, I believe, the final few pages counting as "Flashback 2" by Joe Infurnari. Again, this is speculation based on the clues given on the credits page, so if I am fucking up who did what, apologies all around.
This story is certainly fresher than the opener, but ultimately it still doesn't hook me. A young man buys a rare record for an older, wealthy gentleman whose face we aren't allowed to see all of for some frustrating reason. The older man then reveals the record is one of several he intends to collect, all of which were somehow connected to the deaths of their owners. That's an alright concept with definite potential, but the idea is so barely and briefly introduced here. There are too many pages of the younger guy getting and delivering the record, by the time we find out what makes it valuable, whammo, the issue is over. Who the old man is, why he wants the records, how he knows how many there are, and what they even exactly have to do with people's deaths is all still unknown. If one of those questions had been answered, even, this might have been a more satisfying first taste, but as is it feels like a teaser trailer for a story that might be good in its entirety, but might well not.
On the art side, Storms has the smoothest lines and calmest art overall, though there is still a certain sketchiness to it in places. Not everyone always looks the same from one panel to the next, and there are places where the background details are left a bit undefined, although that's not always the case. Storms' work is right for his part of the issue, to be sure, as it is the most subdued portion of the narrative as well.
The final scene is of the old man discovering the first record in his bizarre collection, which played while his friend was killed by a swarm of bees or hornets or some kind of stinging insect. Infurnari's pencils are the angriest, heavy and thick chaotic. Perfect for drawing an attacking insect swarm, but the rest of the imagery feels a tad over-aggressive. Also, it's not laid out ideally, with some important panels being given too little space so that the events of the insect attack aren't immediately obvious. Nothing terrible or impossible to make out, but the weakest and ugliest pencils of the bunch.
The whole issue is written by Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlon, though the project was created by Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge, and is a companion piece to their new album, I guess. The story is credited to Younge, Rosenberg, and Ce Garcia, so obviously a lot of different creative minds are involved. Even so, there's a lack of originality and detail in these stories that underwhelms. Flashes of cool concepts and the beginnings of somewhat intriguing narratives are here, but nothing meaty enough to make me need to come back for more.
Yet Twelve Reasons to Die is trying to be different, just not always succeeding, and it's trying to be daring, too, which goes a long way with me. Plus it looks good all the way through, even those pages I liked less than others. There's nothing to bemoan here, but nothing to celebrate, either. A debut that didn't grab me, nor did it send me running.