The closest thing Horror has to a Marvel Universe, as of the time of this writing, is The Conjuring universe. It’s a fascinating development, how a horror franchise that claims to be based on true events has carved a space for itself in the crowded shared universe arena. From Annabelle to The Nun, each film adds to the number of evil entities that inhabit its world while showing how they can later influence future hauntings. Naturally, each new nightmare requires its own story, a circumstance that led to the horror series’ first foray into comics in the form of The Conjuring: The Lover.
Written by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Rex Ogle, with Garry Brown (Babyteeth) on art, The Conjuring: The Lover #1 follows a college student named Jessica that is struggling to make her college grades match her mother’s expectations while also dealing with romantic frustrations, loneliness, and a dark entity that’s taken an interest in her. Clearly, Jessica isn’t having much fun in college.
Whether it’s an actual person conjuring evil spirits to oppress Jessica or an inhuman thing out to make her suffer remains to be seen, but the comic captures that sense of dread horror can excel at by presenting Jessica as an already conflicted character that’s ripe for the taking by someone or something that wants to corrupt her.
The script is smart enough to pace the scares out accordingly, without leaning too heavy on the terror in this first issue. There’s the promise of paranormal activity, but just what it is that’s lurking in the shadows isn’t revealed yet and it makes for a more engrossing read. It helps that Jessica’s own personal demons are ever-present as well. Her fears and anxieties feed into the atmosphere the comic creates and offers a kind of hint as to what will latch onto her very being.
Garry Brown’s pencils prove to be adept at capturing the finer details in horror so as to allow the power of suggestion to guide readers into filling in the dark spaces. It invites close inspection of the comics page. I was always on the lookout for a ghost hand creeping around a corner or a set of yellow eyes dimly glowing deep within the shadows. Brown is flexing all the right muscles here and is letting everyone know he can do horror with the best of them.
The Conjuring: The Lover #1 also includes a back-up story written by Scott Snyder and illustrated by Denys Cowan centered on one of Ed and Lorraine Warren’s old cases, titled “The Ferryman.” It’s a brief but well executed homage to classic horror that follows a boy that steals a coin from the corpse of an old woman during a funeral service. By violating the unwritten rules of an ancient practice that secures a dead person’s passage into the afterlife, the character goes through the motions of a lifelong haunting that stands as a lesson to readers on the dangers of messing with the business of the dead.
And then there are the short fake ads for haunted and possessed items. They resemble the ads found in old horror magazines, but they’re given here a darkly comedic twist in which the punchline lies not just in the sales pitch but also in the fine print. They’re illustrated by Dave Johnson and are so fun to read that I wish Johnson would make an entire book based on these fake ads.
The Conjuring universe has a very successful first outing in its hands with “The Lover.” It comes off as an organic extension of the franchise and its own brand of horror. There’s a lot to look forward to in each issue knowing just how much is squeezed into one comic. It’s quite the horror package and it feels as if it can’t wait to show us even more terrible things for our viewing pleasure.
Writers: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, Rex Ogle, Scott Snyder
Art: Garry Brown, Denys Cowan, Dave Johnson
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0
Recommendation: Buy and pray that demon Nun doesn’t go to the same church as you do.