Tales of alternate history fascinate readers and viewers, perhaps because we can indulge our “What if?” questions, either to avoid making the mistakes of the past or to allow us the opportunity to delve into a good romp of intrigue and action that feels both familiar and fantastical. Writer Kyle Higgins taps into several of those threads in his new Image Comics series The Dead Hand, whose fourth issue was just released this week.

Mr. Higgins recently attended a panel at the Lexington Comic & Toy Convention in Lexington, Kentucky, touching on The Dead Hand a bit on the cusp on the debut of the book’s first issue.

THE DEAD HAND #1 cover

The Dead Hand is a spy thriller that takes place at the end of the Cold War. The name ‘The Dead Hand’ actually refers to an autonomous doomsday weapon that the Soviets never built, but talked about it,” Higgins explained, describing the series’ roots in actual history.

“They did build a semi-autonomous doomsday weapon that was designed to guarantee a retaliatory strike on the United States in the event of the Kremlin being totally decapitated. We didn’t learn about it until 1993. The autonomous system, the Dead Hand, was not built.

He laughs, “Even the Soviets were like, ‘That’s crazy; we can’t do that.’”

“Or did they?” he slyly smiles, leading into the historical twist of his comic. “So, my book spans that era, but mostly takes place in modern day. It takes in a small town called Mountain View that has a secret. It deals with this cast of characters that are former spies who were part of that espionage ring in the mid-1980s. Some things about the last Cold war operation—the Dead Hand—are coming back up and are threatening to destroy the world once again.”

THE DEAD HAND #4 cover

While you can see him get excited and jazzed when speaking about the book’s subject matter, part of what seems to engage Higgins about the series is the manner in which he wrote it, which he says was a departure from how he has tackled comics in the past.

“I wrote the comic in a very different style than anything I’ve ever tried before. It’s all third-person narration. I can use the narration to transition between sequences, which allows me to have a ton of narrative freedom and dexterity and going into interstitials: We can have a sequence that says, ‘This is what you need to understand about what we just saw’ and then you see it main story. It’s scary, it’s weird, it’s something I’ve never tried before, but it’s also very cool.”

The Dead Hand #4 is out now from Image Comics.

From the official issue description of issue #4:

“COLD WAR RELICS,” Part Four The Dead Hand melts down as Vil and Ellis get closer to bringing about the end of the world.