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Review: Dead Seas #1

Dead Seas #1

Haunted ships aren’t exactly a new thing in the horror genre. They are, in essence, floating haunted houses made even more isolated, and perhaps crueler, by virtue of being placed miles away from land, thus making it pretty hard for anyone inside them to escape. It’s mostly the same idea behind stories that take place inside haunted spaceships or monster-infested cargo ships. There’s no escape, no one to really hear you scream, and no one to call for a quick save (all things that make movies like Alien and Event Horizon so utterly terrifying).

A floating prison ship that recruits inmates to work on the highly dangerous task of extracting ectoplasm from the ghosts that are being held in it, though, adds a few wrinkles to that old formula. There just aren’t a lot of these kind of ships in horror. This fact alone opens new doors into terror, and it is precisely what writer Cavan Scott and artist Nick Brokenshire decided bet on for their new IDW Originals series Dead Seas.

Dead Seas follows Gus, an inmate who is being flown into the prison ship Perdition to work on ectoplasmic collection, an entirely new field of work that’s still in its experimental phase. The world, one character explains early on, has been wrestling with a ghost problem for going on ten years, forcing a new status quo and new opportunities to exploit. Water, it’s been found, can hurt ghosts, a discovery that’s led to the capture and holding of spirits at sea to study the ooze they secrete and their potential medical benefits. Of course, it doesn’t take long for technical difficulties and human error to cut the experiment short and put every living soul on the ship on the path towards paranormal activity.

Dead Seas #1

There are a few influences at play in the story, more as flavoring rather than dominating ingredients. Fans of the 2001 Thirteen Ghosts remake, for instance, might appreciate some of the ways in which Scott and Brokenshire present their ghosts and the vessels they’re trapped in. Spirits are found in short supply in Dead Seas #1, but what’s shown hints at an interest in exploring their more monstrous aspects (like those in the film I mentioned). These aren’t transparent outlines of deceased relatives or hazy visions of regular people. They’re nightmarish, things that look and feel dangerous, insidious, and tortured.

Ghosts are only as good as the people they haunt, though, and Dead Seas starts strong in this department. Scott and Brokenshire surround Gus with a cast of inmates and scientists with complex personalities, each carrying their personal histories on their bodies for all to see. Brokenshire’s character design does an excellent job of making each one feel like a unique person, with qualities both seen and unseen making it across in a very nuanced visual style.

Scott’s dialogue and carefully orchestrated exposition segments prioritize character work first. It’s the reason why issue #1 is lighter on ghosts, which isn’t a knock against it. Scott lets conversations play out as needed so that readers can get a good sense of their personas, especially as it pertains to their anxieties and fears. Every prisoner is there for a reason, mostly to get some benefit in exchange for their service as it pertains to their prison sentences. The stakes run high as the promise of freedom is dangled in from of them so they can overlook the risks and do the job.

Dead Seas #1

One thing the first issue could’ve done a bit better with was pacing. Scott and Brokenshire do an admirable job of worldbuilding and character development, but it all happens fast. There’s barely any breathing room to process what we learn about Gus and Perdition’s ghost operation. The story is rich enough that I would appreciate a slower pace to savor the smaller details in it.

This complaint, however, does little to detract from this impressive and refreshing horror series debut. The promise of things to come is more than enough to warrant attention and further reading. It’s hard not to love stories that tinker with traditions and expectations within genre to arrive at something new. Dead Seas falls squarely on that category and I can’t wait to see what horrors await us in Perdition.

Writer: Cavan Scott Art: Nick Brokenshire Letter: Shawn Lee
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0
Recommendation: Read, then research how much damage water can actually inflict on ghosts.

IDW Publishing provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review


Purchase: Zeus ComicscomiXology/Kindle

Advance Review: Dead Seas #1

Dead Seas #1

Haunted ships aren’t exactly a new thing in the horror genre. They are, in essence, floating haunted houses made even more isolated, and perhaps crueler, by virtue of being placed miles away from land, thus making it pretty hard for anyone inside them to escape. It’s mostly the same idea behind stories that take place inside haunted spaceships or monster-infested cargo ships. There’s no escape, no one to really hear you scream, and no one to call for a quick save (all things that make movies like Alien and Event Horizon so utterly terrifying).

A floating prison ship that recruits inmates to work on the highly dangerous task of extracting ectoplasm from the ghosts that are being held in it, though, adds a few wrinkles to that old formula. There just aren’t a lot of these kind of ships in horror. This fact alone opens new doors into terror, and it is precisely what writer Cavan Scott and artist Nick Brokenshire decided bet on for their new IDW Originals series Dead Seas.

Dead Seas follows Gus, an inmate who is being flown into the prison ship Perdition to work on ectoplasmic collection, an entirely new field of work that’s still in its experimental phase. The world, one character explains early on, has been wrestling with a ghost problem for going on ten years, forcing a new status quo and new opportunities to exploit. Water, it’s been found, can hurt ghosts, a discovery that’s led to the capture and holding of spirits at sea to study the ooze they secrete and their potential medical benefits. Of course, it doesn’t take long for technical difficulties and human error to cut the experiment short and put every living soul on the ship on the path towards paranormal activity.

Dead Seas #1

There are a few influences at play in the story, more as flavoring rather than dominating ingredients. Fans of the 2001 Thirteen Ghosts remake, for instance, might appreciate some of the ways in which Scott and Brokenshire present their ghosts and the vessels they’re trapped in. Spirits are found in short supply in Dead Seas #1, but what’s shown hints at an interest in exploring their more monstrous aspects (like those in the film I mentioned). These aren’t transparent outlines of deceased relatives or hazy visions of regular people. They’re nightmarish, things that look and feel dangerous, insidious, and tortured.

Ghosts are only as good as the people they haunt, though, and Dead Seas starts strong in this department. Scott and Brokenshire surround Gus with a cast of inmates and scientists with complex personalities, each carrying their personal histories on their bodies for all to see. Brokenshire’s character design does an excellent job of making each one feel like a unique person, with qualities both seen and unseen making it across in a very nuanced visual style.

Scott’s dialogue and carefully orchestrated exposition segments prioritize character work first. It’s the reason why issue #1 is lighter on ghosts, which isn’t a knock against it. Scott lets conversations play out as needed so that readers can get a good sense of their personas, especially as it pertains to their anxieties and fears. Every prisoner is there for a reason, mostly to get some benefit in exchange for their service as it pertains to their prison sentences. The stakes run high as the promise of freedom is dangled in from of them so they can overlook the risks and do the job.

Dead Seas #1

One thing the first issue could’ve done a bit better with was pacing. Scott and Brokenshire do an admirable job of worldbuilding and character development, but it all happens fast. There’s barely any breathing room to process what we learn about Gus and Perdition’s ghost operation. The story is rich enough that I would appreciate a slower pace to savor the smaller details in it.

This complaint, however, does little to detract from this impressive and refreshing horror series debut. The promise of things to come is more than enough to warrant attention and further reading. It’s hard not to love stories that tinker with traditions and expectations within genre to arrive at something new. Dead Seas falls squarely on that category and I can’t wait to see what horrors await us in Perdition.

Writer: Cavan Scott Art: Nick Brokenshire Letter: Shawn Lee
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0
Recommendation: Read, then research how much damage water can actually inflict on ghosts.

IDW Publishing provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review


Pre-order: Zeus ComicscomiXology/Kindle

Review: ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK ‘GHOST ISLAND’ offers an intelligently mature look at death and ghosts

Nickelodeon’s Are you Afraid of the Dark revival has been a surprisingly refreshing take on YA horror that is unafraid to conjure up a fair bit of darkness to get its story across modern audiences. The first season, for instance, centers on a carnival that kidnaps children and turns them into zombie-like carnies, leaving a trail of broken communities and the threat of real harm in its path. It’s chockfull of horror references that fans of the genre can point to and say ‘that’s from [insert classic horror film or director],’ but it never strayed from its intentions of honoring the original 90’s show celebration of sitting around a campfire and telling scary stories.

Season 3, subtitled “Ghost Island,” aims to further the revival’s American Horror Story-like anthology approach with another self-contained story that’s as welcoming to newcomers as it is to fans of the original series and of horror in general. Having said that, and as far as the first episode of the new season is concerned, “Ghost Island” might be Afraid of the Dark’s most mature entry yet.

A lonely tropical island serves as the setting for the story, a place that carries the name of Ghost Island due to the legend of its haunted hotel. The legend is explored quite a bit in the first episode and it seems to center on room 13 of the building, the place guests never check out from. Whatever haunts this room makes anyone who steps inside disappear, leaving only tortured ghosts and disembodied voices as the only trace they were ever there.

As was the case with the previous two seasons, the driving force behind the series is the group of kids that make up the latest version of the Midnight Society (the club that opened each episode of the original series with a story around a campfire deep in the woods). Kayla (Telci Huynh), Max (Conor Sherry), Leo (Luca Padovan), Summer(Dior Goodjohn), and Ferris(Chance Hurstfield) make up the group, all enthusiasts of supernatural storytelling.

The reason behind their trip to Ghost Island is tied to the death of one of the original members of the club. She wanted her friends to specifically go and stay in the haunted hotel (so it seems) for reasons that will surely be revealed as the story progresses. The loss of this member is felt throughout the first episode with an intensity that gives it a serious tone, funereal in parts even. This Midnight Society is trying to come to terms her absence, with the death of someone they never thought they’d just lose forever. It raises the emotional stakes of the story and signals an interest in exploring the ways death manifests itself among kids, how it lingers.

Ghost Island
Are You Afraid of the Dark: Ghost Island

It succeeds at this thanks to the performances of the main cast, with Telci Huynh leading the pack as Kelly, the member who seems to be taking the loss the hardest. Huynh showcases a very nuanced interpretation of the character with an emotional range that captures how overwhelming someone’s death can be while trying to enjoy the early years of one’s life, where the expectation is fun and carefree-ness.

The rest of the cast stays the course, a mix of youthful energy and melancholy that jumps off the screen to entice its viewers with enough reality to say something meaningful even as ghosts threaten to bring the group into the others side.

The hotel’s manager, played by Julian Curtis, is another standout. He plays his part with a snark that’s all too familiar in these kinds of stories, but there’s a hidden element to the character that always makes itself known to great effect. Curtis doesn’t go for the classically annoying and oblivious authority figure. Instead, he feels like a key component of the mystery and is given the necessary presence to make him an important character.

What glimpses we get of the horrors in room 13 are brief but effective. Great care seems to have been afforded to the makeup effects for the ghosts that bleed through to the side of the living. Some of it is best appreciated in the opening sequence of episode 1, where we get a taste of how the haunted room disappears its guests. It’s among one of the revival’s most intense opening sequences and it features a nod to certain iconic visuals from movies such as Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and The Frighteners (1996).

Are You Afraid of the Dark: Ghost Island

JT Billings’ script and Dean Israelite’s direction expertly combine for a story that has elements of The Shining (1980) and another haunted hotel movie called 1408 (released in 2007), both based on the works of Stephen King. It’ll be interesting to see how these influences will inform the remainder of the 4-episode season, but what’ll potentially be most compelling for longtime fans of the original series will be spotting the references to classic AYAOTD episodes scattered throughout. Like the first season, a lot of thought is being put into the things the revival wants to homage and identifying them as they pop up is uniquely gratifying.

With the first episode of “Ghost Island” already up in YouTube for eager fans to see ahead of the premiere (July 30th), there’s no reason why you shouldn’t dive into this impressive and deep exploration of horror at a young age. Are You Afraid of the Dark: Ghost Island starts off with a genuinely creepy and unsettling haunting that means to contemplate serious themes and age-specific fears. Thus far, it stands to be further confirmation that Are You Afraid of the Dark isn’t just one of the best YA horror shows currently on air but one of the best straight up horror productions on television, period.

Movie Review: We’re All Going to the World’s Fair

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair

Social isolation stories are a dime a dozen in film, especially those coupled with ‘coming of age’ themes set within broken family scenarios. We’re All Going to The World’s Fair certainly taps into all of this, but it does so in a uniquely disquieting way that disturbs just as much as it breaks your heart. That it achieves this using the language of horror, in subtle ways, makes it all the more outstanding.

Written, edited, and directed by Jane Schoenbrun, We’re All Going to The World’s Fair follows a girl called Casey as she takes on a social media challenge called “the World’s Fair.” It’s a combination of Creepypasta urban legend stuff with TikTok-like content creation sensibilities. The challenge is supposed to cause bizarre bodily changes (as if it were more of a gradual takeover of the body) while also warping the subject’s own sense of reality.

Casey (played by Anna Cobb) starts experiencing the challenge’s symptoms, but whether this is all imagined or not depends on how credible a shared online horror experience can be. This is made more complicated by Casey’s home situation, which the audience only gets flashes of. It’s up to them to piece it together, but it’s clear things don’t bode well in her house.

Going to The World’s Fair is a difficult movie to classify. The viral challenge aspect carries a mystery that gives just enough to put the story in horror territory, but it’s not the driving force behind it. It’s a vehicle for the movie’s intimate portrayal of Casey’s psyche. Her isolation from any meaningful human interaction that’s not filtered through a computer is where the movie truly finds ways to unsettle. Some might be tempted to call it a ‘coming of age’ yarn with light horror elements, but this also doesn’t do it justice. I settled on isolation horror, a kind of genre expression that looks at an individual psyche to explore the things that scare us when we’re left almost completely alone.

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair

Anna Cobb’s performance is the reason why this works so well. Cobb makes Casey’s mental anguish and frustrations constantly bleed through her body language. She looks haunted in very single frame she’s in. The social media element accentuates this thanks to Schoenbrun’s decision to establish a kind of distance between Casey and the videos she sees on her computer. She’s never just hunched over a computer screen. She’s usually lying in bed, watching videos from a short distance. It creates the sensation she’s peering into someone else’s life rather than actively engaging with them online.

There’s an interesting wrinkle added to this in the form of a character called “JLB” (played by Michael J. Rogers) that pushes Casey further down the digital rabbit hole. His interactions with her are also weird, fractured even, and do a lot to further establish Casey’s isolation. His unstable presence, along with the viral challenge’s influence, managed to keep me on the lookout for something terrible or somewhat supernatural lurking in the background. I never found anything of the sort, but that was because all I needed was to stay in the situation with Casey, to embrace the painful proximity we have with her based on how close she can be to the camera.

In a sense, the horror on display here is of the same type more indie/arthouse productions go for, meaning there’s nothing outright revealed as supernatural. The door is always open to interpretation, to varying degrees depending on the story. Fans of movies like Toad Road (2012) will find a lot to love here. In that movie, a group of relatively young characters embroiled in the excesses of drugs are paired with a dark urban legend that flirts with the idea that Hell or a hidden realm filled with terrible sights can be reached by walking a particular path deep in the woods.

While this movie does commit more to the supernatural than Going to The World’s Fair, there’s a similar sensation regarding the horrors of reality versus the horrors of myths that turn out to be true. Those looking for more of this type of horror should go watch Toad Road. When things descend into outright terror, it gets really dark. It shares that haunting quality that permeates throughout World’s Fair.

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair

Going to The World’s Fair also boasts a remarkable soundtrack, created by Alex G, that plays with synth and retro sounds to best capture the digital horror world Casey traverses. There’s purpose behind each piece and they color certain sequences in ways that make them stand out individually. It’s as if Alex G gave every phase of the challenge a different theme that identifies or signals some change in it. It’s hard to think about the movie without thinking about the music that weaves itself through it.

Jane Schoenbrun crafts a sad tale of a girl struggling with loneliness in a world where social media doesn’t just isolate people but also puts them on a path that might or might not trap you inside another state of consciousness dictated by horror. It impresses in its subtlety, in its ability to foster the strange without losing sight of character. We’re All Going to The World’s Fair is haunting. I would even argue it’s intentions is to actually haunt viewers. It achieved that with me, and I won’t soon be forgetting it.

TV Review: Moon Knight S1E1

Moon Knight

It’s not unfair to say that as good as the Marvel movies and TV series are, they’re all very much governed by a formula that makes them come off as predictable. Well, predictable up to a point. I can’t in good conscience say they’re merely copy and paste versions of the same story, but there are commonalities. The hero, or heroes, find themselves conflicted with the roles they’ve either played before or are going to play, they’re put on a path that confronts them with a villain that will eventually help them recalibrate their identities, and then they accept and embrace their hero status.

Disney+’s Moon Knight goes for different, at least as far as the first episode is concerned. It comes off as a kind of companion to WandaVision in terms of concept, being that it approaches the idea of fragile realities in an intimate manner. Magic, horror, and psychology take precedence over action and political intrigue. Whether it’ll sustain this or not remains to be seen, but it at least results in a very refreshing first episode.

Moon Knight follows Steven Grant (played by Oscar Isaac), a museum shop clerk that suffers from intense and violent dreams, blackouts, and an invading personality that the comics the series is based on have often treated as a kind of supernatural dissociative identity disorder (DID for short). Steven starts to get haunted by a booming and authoritative voice (supplied by the great F. Murray Abraham) that will reveal itself to be the entity that endows him with the power to become Moon Knight.

Moon Knight

Ethan Hawke plays Arthur Harrow, a cult leader-like figure that is looking to harness the entity that has taken over Steven Grant. He gets to see the very British Steven become the very violent mercenary Marc Spector. It all leads up to Steven becoming Moon Knight to fight off the villain while trying to untangle his multiple personalities.

Isaac and Hawke on their own justify the watch. Isaac in particular plays a very emotionally convincing man that’s being tormented by his mind and how it disrupts his notions of reality and identity. It makes the Steven Grant character instantly likeable and relatable, not unlike Dan Stevens’ character in Fox’s own comic book series Legion (named after the titular character).

In Legion, the main character sees his powers in heavy contrast to schizophrenia, a condition that in Legion’s case blurs the lines between metahuman abilities and psychiatric symptoms. It remains to be seen how the DID aspects of Moon Knight’s character unspool, but so far it’s presented as key story element that builds the character sensibly.

Hawke complements Isaac by approaching his character as a kind of twisted spiritual guide that disarms people through words first and violence second. It makes for a very menacing display of villainy, one I’m eager to see develop as the show progresses.

Moon Knight

The first episode’s director, Mohamed Diab, also shines, especially in how inventive his approach is to the show’s action sequences. Initially, we’re presented with a Steven that epitomizes defenselessness in the face of insurmountable odds. When put in a life-threating situation, though, Steven blacks out and reawakens instantly to see he has solved the situation he was in with a lot of spilt blood as evidence of his handiwork.

The fight sequence itself isn’t shown. Instead, Diab goes clever editing and quick cuts to make these segments play out like fractured instances of violence that demand viewers fill in the blanks the blackouts leave behind. It builds Steven’s character while in the middle of the action, especially in the bits not shown, and it’s something I hope the series explores more.

If the first episode of the series is any indication, Moon Knight has a lot left to impress us with. The performances elevate the material to impressive heights and make the wait for the following episode that much harder. This series might be the one to break with the MCU TV formula and come up with something different, if only just a bit.

Review: A Righteous Thirst For Vengeance #6

A Righteous Thirst For Vengeance #6

Rick Remender and André Lima Araújo’s A Righteous Thirst for Vengeance is as much an exercise in pacing as it is in volume. Comics have an abstract sense of sound about them that range from blockbuster levels of loud to subtle drama levels of soft. An Avengers comic, for instance, doesn’t “sound” like a Batman comic, which in turn doesn’t have the same acoustics as a Saga or Criminal comic. There are a lot of variations in volume to be found in the medium. A Righteous Thirst for Vengeance has been a strong example of this and how it can impact storytelling. Issue #6 continues to expand on it.

The latest issue of the series keeps the volume low, so to speak, as Sonny finds himself living off the grid in a small makeshift encampment that’s as far away from technology as possible. The people who are after him live in a world where GPS pings and sign-in alerts make everyone easy to track, frighteningly so.

As a result, and after the events of the previous issue force Sonny and a small kid to go on the run, Remender and Lima Araújo decide to catch up with their characters with a kind ‘calm before the storm’ sensibility that sets up some potentially very bad things to come.

Remender and Lima Araújo do an excellent job of capturing the quietness that characterizes living in a vacuum of technology. This is what I mean when I refer to sound in the comic. There’s an intention behind capturing this kind of silence as it serves the story’s pacing and tone. It slows down the narrative so that the reader can consider the things that led up to Sonny’s current predicament without the distractions associated with our digital-heavy lifestyles.

A Righteous Thirst For Vengeance #6

The comic was already paced in a kind of moment-to-moment manner that kept things intimate and intense. Issue #6 lets us breath a little before getting back to the methodically tense chase that’s been taking place since issue #2 of the series.

The script, as has been the case so far, sticks to brief dialogue exchanges to keep things from devolving into longwinded sequences that deviate from the matter at hand. A Righteous Thirst is a very focused comic, something it has to be if it wants to sustain the different elements at play in its storytelling.

Lima Araújo’s art is equally focused and it’s where the comic plays the most with sound. Pages are never static and feature quick cuts to vistas, objects, and animals present in the environment that help populate the story with personality, not unlike how slower-paced movies are edited to create a contemplative atmosphere. It establishes a strong sense of place and it allows the reader to appreciate the settings the comic’s characters inhabit, down to the sounds that color the locations. Not many comics can lay claim to finding success in this and it has been quite the experience watching it all grow into deeper and more complex forms issue after issue.

A Righteous Thirst for Vengeance #6 is confirmation that the series is still on the right track and riding high. Each entry has been a surprise unto itself and #6 is no exception. It’s a comic that demands to not just be read, but also to be listened to.

Story: Rick Remender, Art: André Lima Araújo
Color: Chris O’Halloran Letters: Rus Wooton
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0

Recommendation: Read and then go watch some Criterion films for good measure.

Review: The Hellbound, Vol. 1

The Hellbound, Vol. 1

Yeon Sang-Ho and Choi Kyu-Seok’s manhwa, The Hellbound, tells the story of a new world phenomena, history-altering by its very nature: the confirmation of the existence of Hell.

It features hulking monstrosities that hunt people down and take them to Hell once they’ve been judged by an angel that also offers the time and date of their deaths. It’s terrifying on different levels, but where it cuts deepest is in its unwavering commitment to exploring how human behavior changes when confronted with this information. It poses questions that disturb our own sense of reality, casting doubts on whether our actions come out of the pureness of our hearts or out of self-interest in securing our place in the afterlife.

Some might recognize this manhwa for its Netflix adaptation first, which was developed by Sang-Ho, the director of the modern Korean zombie classic Train to Busan (2016). But the story doesn’t even start with the manhwa. Its origins are found in two animated shorts called The Hell (Two Kinds of Life), developed using the rotoscope technique and focusing on the same core ideas described above with certain key variations.

The manhwa comes after the animated movies and was originally published as a Webtoon comic. It was adapted so faithfully to live-action, panel for panel at times, that it can basically be taken as a fully detailed storyboard version of the story. It gives the impression that it had its sights set on becoming a six-part television series since its inception.

The Hellbound, Vol. 1

As it goes in the tv adaptation, The Hellbound starts with the brutal killing of a man that was damned to Hell by an angel and then sent there courtesy of a mysterious pack of creatures that appear at a specific date and time to collect the subject’s soul (mainly by beating the person to a pulp first and then burning his or her body to extract their soul from the charred remains).

People all over South Korea are trying to process the meaning of this very public horror, slowly coming to the realization that those who are visited by the angel and its monsters have a history of sinful life choices weighing them down. It’s what makes them potential marks for damnation.

A widowed detective working through the trauma of losing his wife to violent crime, a skeptical lawyer looking out for the best interests of those trying to take advantage of this new Hell business, and a shady religious leader supporting what he proclaims to be God’s work all drive the story forward in the first volume of the manhwa. They each represent a different aspect of faith, morality, and justice, offering readers various entry points into the problem of having what seems to be concrete and reliable affirmation that God exists and that he is watching us.

Sang-Ho and Kyu-Seok set up these characters as metaphors on the fragility of social structures when confronted with the idea that morality could actually be as simple as good and evil, black and white. Just how we come to an objective definition of what’s good and what’s evil is where the book’s genius truly lies.

The story features a conspiracy-obsessed internet personality that represents a group of violently fanatic youths known as the Arrowhead. This group stands to represent how dangerous digital influencers and commentators can be when they speak to a moral duty to conform to the new status quo, which involves the recognition of what the group eventually calls demonstrations of Hell. The story’s at its most frightening when it shows this brainwashed group blindly pledging their allegiance to something that’s not only unprecedented in human history but also complicated to untangle and make sense of.

In this regard, The Hellbound is a treatise on the dangers of aggressive and targeted influencing, and it mines some of society’s darkest elements in the process to tell a story that’s part mystery, part religious philosophy, and all horror. The online radicalization of younger people plays a big role in this and it sets the story on a considerably more complicated path in terms of a people’s tendency to approach big changes with a mob mentality.

Sang-Ho’s script is airtight, surgical in its focus but also interested in meaningful character development. The story is eager to engage readers with its ideas, but it doesn’t lose sight of the things that make for good storytelling. Every character struggles with a looming sense of doom, coupled with a generous helping of dread, that makes their perspective on the events vary wildly. It helps keep the story urgent and stimulating throughout.

Kyu-Seok’s art aims for a very palpable sense of realism that gets thrown around and pummeled into submission once the monsters start claiming the souls of the damned. The creature designs stand out on account of them being so unlike anything classically biblical. In fact, it’s not even clear just exactly what it is they are or which side they represent. Are they angelic servants sent from the heavens or demonic entities carrying out Hell’s orders? All the reader knows is that they are cruelly violent brutes that seem to exist only to inflict pain. Their black, tightly-wound tendril bodies leave more questions than answers in their wake, amplifying the terror they instill into an existentially rattled populace.

The Hellbound, Vol. 1

The Hellbound settles for nothing less than to shake its readers to their cores, all the way down to their beliefs. It’s a nerve-wracking read at points and it’s unafraid to drop readers into very uncomfortable situations to get at more serious questions about religion, social influence, and morality. It deserves to be read, consumed as a tv series, and seen as a pair of short animated movies. It’s a dark world that Sang-Ho and Kyu-Seok have crafted, one where the prospect of Hell is shaped by very human choices.

Story: Yeon Sang-Ho, Art: Choi Kyu-Seok
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Read and dust off the old Bible just in case

Dark Horse provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review


Purchase: Amazon

Review: Stray Dogs: Dog Days #2

Stray Dogs: Dog Days #2

Stray Dogs has been an emotional read since the very first issue. It’s fitting that it ends on equal terms, with an emphasis on moving beyond trauma to find some kind of closure. The individual dog stories in “Dog Days” (the two-issue follow-up to the main series) achieves this while also combining for a sensible conclusion that lays every emotion imaginable out in the open with an invitation to feel each one.

Dog Days #2, which continues in the same short story format of the first entry, centers on several of the main story’s dogs to get at their origin stories and how they related to their human companions, the ones taken by their serial killer master. Creators Tony Fleecs and Trish Forstner change it up with stories about victims that initially get away from the main story’s serial killer thanks to their protective dogs and stories focused on memorial services for those who were unfortunate enough to cross paths with the killer.

This issue plays out like an emotional reckoning that brings in the ugliness of the story to the forefront with the intention of accentuating the ripple effects of evil actions and how they all stem from the egotistical desires of twisted individual. What’s impressive is how each segment in the book wrestles with those ideas.

Fleecs and Forstner allow each dog to represent themes such as confusion, anger, acceptance, and mourning during their stories to make sure the overarching narrative closes with an understanding that violence leads to messy endings and that navigating them is never meant to be an easy or clearly defined process.

Stray Dogs: Dog Days #2
Stray Dogs: Dog Days #2, variant cover by Manu Silva

As has been the case with the entire series, the art style continues to be an exercise in contrasts where the dark subject matter collides with Disney-like cartoon visuals to produce a harder-hitting storytelling experience. The same strategy that’s worked before is still intact and continues to work just as well. Forstner has shown complete mastery of the cartoon style and has done a remarkable job adapting it to a type of story that is not usually associated with it.

Fleecs’ script also stays true to form, unafraid to venture into heart-breaking territory without beating you over the head with it. Dog Days #1 already tugged on the heart strings enough, so it was refreshing to see Fleecs take a step back to explore other possibilities, as was the case of one the dog’s successful attempt at scaring the killer away during a kidnapping attempt. It helps to develop the dogs beyond just being victims of the killer’s design and it puts the animal characters under a different light.

Fleecs and Forstner make a formidable creative team and I hope to see more of their work together. Stray Dogs is so good I wish there was a way to extend our stay in its world. There might be a chance of it if they try for an American Horror Story kind of anthology format in which a different horror scenario plays out with different animals and settings. It might open the door for a Stray Cats series in the future, hopefully. For now, though, we have Stray Dogs, and I’ll be rereading it several times more before I’m done with it. You should too.

Story: Tony Fleecs Art: Trish Forstner Colors: Brad Simpson
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10
Recommendation: Buy, read, reread, and then adopt a dog. They can scare away serial killers.

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review


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Review: Bolero #1

Bolero #1

The elevator pitch for Wyatt Kennedy and Luana Vecchio’s Bolero goes something like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind meets Locke & Key. If that doesn’t sell a comic, what does? But to lay claim to that comparison means setting expectations sky high. Fortunately, the comic more than lives up to the stories it namedrops.

Bolero #1 follows Devyn “Dagger” Dagny, a tattoo artist that gets her heart very, very broken—shattered, even—by Natasha, the person that Devyn will go through a whole multiverse to either get back with or forget.

By multiverses I mean literal multiverses. Devyn is given the opportunity to travel precisely 53 universes using a mother key, given to her by a very curious and cuddly creature, that allows her to move between them. A set of rules comes with the mother key, all which are basically set up to be broken later on. These range from not speaking to the being that offers the key to not traveling beyond the number of universes agreed upon.

Kennedy, who scripts the story, takes most of the first issue to lock the emotional hooks in place for Devyn’ multiversal journey, in which she’ll experience the different possibilities and forms her relationship with Natasha could take. The jumps in time, space, and bodies the comic promises is in short supply in this first entry, but the premise is well put together and shows no signs of letting up on the emotions-shattering rollercoaster ride Kennedy hopes to take us on in future issues.

Bolero #1

Vecchio’s art possesses a dream-like quality to it that lends itself perfectly to the type of universe-hopping experience Bolero is aiming for. Characters move across the comics page with a floaty sense of rhythm that imbues the storytelling with a kind of musicality to it that makes everything come together beautifully. Moments of bliss are magical, whereas moments of pain feel like someone is prodding inside you with a cold and indiscriminate medical apparatus without anesthesia. Vecchio’s work is quite simply a marvel to behold in Bolero.

The art is given an extra bump in the magic department with a similarly dreamy and light approach to the lettering, made possible by Brandon Graham. Dialogues unspool like memories one plays over and over again in their mind after a particularly bad breakup. Graham takes the concept and applies it with a careful use of hazy lines and unstable word balloons that capture the raw emotions that hang over every word. It’s a highlight of the book and it shows deep consideration for the vision of the story.

Bolero #1 is a primer on love, pain, and loss that prepares readers for a deeply intimate and rough story that is sure to connect on many levels. It’s a world of possibilities I can’t wait to dive into, no matter how hard things will most definitely get for Devyn and Natasha as they go through 53 variations of their doomed relationship.

Story: Wyatt Kennedy Art: Luana Vecchio Lettering: Brandon Graham
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy along with a box of Kleenex and a bucket of ice cream.

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review


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Review: Rain #1

Rain #1
Rain #1, variant cover by Ashley Wood

Joe Hill is a master of emotional horror, of crafting stories that rip through the spectrum of human expression and into the darker things that pump life into his characters. Those things vary in form, be it the fears that accompany motherhood as seen in NOS4A2 or the excesses of life and the extremes they push us into in Heart-Shaped Box. In Image Comics Rain, adapted from a Joe Hill story of the same name by David M. Booher and Zoe Thorogood, the darkness comes from the concept of sudden loss and how unfair life can be when it comes to love.

Rain follows two young women who are in the process of moving in together. Each one has had to go through the harrowing process of coming out to their parents and their experiences range from surprisingly good to deeply traumatizing. As they arrive on the day the move actually starts, sharp crystal-like nails fall from the sky, killing everyone caught outside enjoying what was originally an invitingly sunny day.

Zoe Thorogood’s art goes for a dark fairy tale feel that frames the story in a kind of magically realistic world that’s as wondrous as it is lethal. It’s a curious approach given the only fantastical element thus far, in the first issue, is the rain of nails. Regardless, the strangeness of the event is enough to make the entire story play out as if realism isn’t an unanimously agreed upon condition.

Rain

That’s not to say it works to its detriment. Booher’s script manages to effectively translate the scope of Hill’s emotional arcs into the comic and it does a phenomenal job of keeping things grounded in that regard. It makes for a unique marriage of text and art, but one that succeeds in telling a story that requires more fantasy than usual to get its point across.

There’s also a fair bit of worldbuilding on display in Rain’s first issue, especially in terms of how the couple’s relationship fits into a time and place where acceptance isn’t as widespread as we’d hope it to be. This helps make the world the characters inhabit feel unsafe, a place where people would’ve been right to expect an actual rain of deadly nails to descend upon them at any moment.

Booher and Thorogood’s adaptation of Hill’s novella is a great example of what a creative team can conjure up when it so fully understands the vision behind a story. Adaptation is no easy task, especially when it comes with the expectation it has to be as good (if not greater) than the source text. Fortunately for Rain, the first issue starts the series out on the right foot, with the promise of more darkly curious things to come.

Story: Joe Hill and David M. Booher Art: Zoe Thorogood
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0
Recommendation: Buy and keep a metal-plated umbrella handy. The way things are going, we should be getting sharp nail showers any minute now.

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review purposes.


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