Welcome to the inaugural posting of 5 Comics You Should Be Reading! In this space we’ll be highlighting books that perhaps we didn’t have time for in our usual reviews (hey, we’re only human) or that we loved so much we’re mentioning them again dammit! This will also give us a chance to step back and consider overall series, as opposed to individual issues.
As it’s approaching All Hallows Eve, when the membrane separating the living and the dead is at its most tremulous, I thought it a good time to throw a quavering lantern light on the field of horror and the supernatural. A couple of personal, debatable rules when it comes to horror: No Superheroes. Just the presence of a costumed do-gooder robs a proper spine-tingler of one of its most potent premises; that things may not turn out alright. Superheroes are a safety net in the free fall of terror (Yes, even Batman). Second, no stories that use Halloween as a direct reference point. These stories are limited to an annual, holiday-themed reading. Horror books, on the other hand should be enjoyed all year round. (Sorry, good as it is, you will not be finding The Long Halloween on this list).
A couple of shout-outs: Dark Horse is the leading publisher of horror comics by a wide margin. Though none of their books appear on this list, their catalog is replete with enough (burnt) offerings to satisfy the bloodlust of even the most ravenous bloodsucker. The Walking Dead is also not on the list, since, let’s face it, you’re probably already reading it.
5. Frankenstein Alive, Alive! (IDW) – The writer of 30 Days of Night (and the underappreciated Criminal Macabre) collaborating with the most legendary horror artist of our times, bar none. What more could you want? Steve Niles’ intriguing story continues where Mary Shelley’s classic novel ends. But what makes this an event is Bernie Wrightson’s incomparable art. The only complaint here is that the first issue came out months ago. But you’ll likely be in a forgiving mood once you feast your eyes on the art. Here’s a peek:
With issue #2 finally due out in a couple of weeks, now’s a good time to check it out.
4. Dark Shadows (Dynamite) – Not the tongue-in-cheek Tim Burton parody. This iteration harkens back to the original cult classic, staying true to the melodramatic pitch and outsize personalities of its characters. But because this is a comic book and not a TV show, the camp of cheesy special effects and awkward editing is toned down in favor a style that has more in common with the lush, outre Hammer films of the 1950’s-70’s. The current creative team of Mike Raicht and Guiu Vilanova have things bubbling nicely. And you can’t miss it thanks to Francesco Francavilla’s Eisner Award-winning covers. Purple dialogue, picturesque settings rocked by intermittent spasms of Grand Guignol violence; forget gothic, this series is positively baroque.
3. Courtney Crumrin (Oni) – Ted Naifeh’s coming of age tale of a young witch is what every ongoing supernatural series aspires to be: multilayered, textural, and driven by distinct, compelling characters caught in a fully realized world fraught with secrets, threats and humor, all of the macabre variety.
2. Fatale (Image) – Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips apply their considerable noir chops to the bottomless well of Lovecraftian horror with chilling results. A postmodern mash-up of classic genres with the potency of aged whiskey drunk from a medieval goblet.
1. Severed (Image) – The story follows Jack, a Depression-era urchin, as he travels across 1920’s America in search of his wayward musician father. His quest is derailed by an evil as ordinary and ingratiating as it is terrifying. In the Salesman, writers Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft have created a monster that instantly takes his place amongst the greatest bogeyman of our times. Just as the Salesman toys with Jack, Snyder and Scott take their time, letting the suspense of the story simmer, notching up the heat with exquisite, inexorable deliberation over seven issues, until it finally, unforgettably boils over. The art by Attila Futaki is a Norman Rockwell nightmare. Simply put, this is the best horror comic in recent memory; a sophisticated, unsettling tale that will sit in your gut like a cold, dead lump, long after you’ve put it down.