With the spooky season almost upon us, now is a better time than any to take a look at a few horror based titles to help fill out your Halloween reading list.
1) Nailbiter – Volume 1: There Will Be Blood TP
Hannibal Lecter, Norman Bates, Dexter Morgan – all names synonymous with serial killers in film and TV. However, did you ever stop to think where they all came from? What if there was a town where all of America’s serial killers were born? This is exactly the question that the first volume of Nailbiter from Image Comics by Joshua Williamson & Mike Henderson attempt to answer.
Buckaroo, Oregon, is the setting for this book and it holds one of the strangest records ever – it has given rise to sixteen of the worlds most reviled serial killers. It is this fact that fascinates an FBI profiler named Carroll who travels to the Buckaroo in an attempt to uncover the secret behind the town’s infamous reputation.
However, when Carroll mysteriously disappears during the course of his investigation, an NSA agent by the name of Finch is despatched to find out what happened to him. The town has some strange and unsettling citizens amongst its patronage, but none more so that exonerated serial killer Edward “Nailbiter” Warren, whom Finch is more or less forced to team up with in order to find Carroll and save the day.
This book is part Silence of the Lambs, part Dexter and a whole lot of police procedural shows rolled into one brilliant package. Fans of these films and TV shows shouldn’t find it hard to draw the comparisons and it is in this crossover that the book finds most of its appeal.
Joshua Williamson does an admirable job on the writing duties and works hard to make the series feel fresh without straying too far into the back catalogue of horror cliches. You could mistake the characters in this book for any number of similar ones from film and TV, but a lot of hard work has been put into the motivations and characterisations to make them feel as though they are different and engaging.
Mike Henderson’s art in this book is absolutely brilliant. A lot of effort has gone into making the tone of this book feel as creepy and unsettling as possible. Henderson’s choice of colours and layout achieve this without issue. There are some confronting images in this book, but they never end up feeling gratuitous or out of place.
Image seem to have stumbled onto another winner with this series. Long time horror fans should get a kick out of this series as it offers a new take on a time honoured genre.
Parental Concern: High. This is not the kind of book that you want to let your kids read until they get a little older.
2) Rachel Rising – Volume 1: The Shadow of Death TP
Rachel Rising from Abstract Studio is the latest work in the impressive career of writer/artist Terry Moore.
The book follows the story of Rachel, a young lady who wakes up one fateful morning in the shallow grave in which she was buried. Rachel proceeds to drag herself from her final resting place and although her memory is scant, she immediately sets about taking revenge on her killer and anyone else who may have had a hand in her death.
There is a wider conspiracy at play throughout the story and Moore does a wonderful job in drip feeding the information to the reader at just the right moments. Rachel also has an interesting group of family and friends assisting her in her search and this helps to lighten an otherwise dark story.
I particularly enjoy the fact that Rachel still has control over her faculties even after she has been resurrected. Many similar stories in this genre tend to treat resurrection as a curse such as with zombies or vampires. Rachel’s case is slightly different in that she thinks there is nothing wrong with her, despite the fact that she is, for all intents and purposes, medically deceased. Moore uses this knowledge wisely to inform the reactions of other characters in the book.
After having read this book, I can admit that there are some genuinely creepy moments in it. The scenes that depict murder and possession are particularly impactful and Moore uses them to great effect.
One thing I should point out here is that this book is illustrated in black and white. But don’t let that put you off. If anything, the simple black and white colour scheme only helps to make the book seem that much more unsettling. Moore’s artwork in this book and the simple, uncluttered appearance of the characters makes for an interesting visual style that readers of the Walking Dead series will likely find appealing.
If you are the kind of person that likes taking a chance on a title that isn’t exactly mainstream but has enough appeal to engage you for a volume or two, then Rachel Rising is one that I would highly recommend.
Parental Concern: High. This is not a book for younger readers.
3) Afterlife with Archie – Volume 1: Escape from Riverdale TP
The breakout hit of 2014, Afterlife with Archie is probably the most unexpected thing to come out of Archie Comics in a long time.
The basic premise is this; Archie’s long-time friend Jughead appears on the doorstep of Sabrina Spellman’s home begging her to save his beloved dog, Hot-Dog. While Sabrina and her aunts try their best to save the dog, they are unable to bring him back to life. Distraught, Jughead leaves the Spellman home and lays is dog to rest in his doghouse.
Having seen how much the death of Hot-Dog has affected Jughead, Sabrina decides to break witch law and perform necromancy to raise hot-dog from the dead. Unfortunately, things don’t quite go as planned and hot-dog returns to infect Jughead and kick off a zombie apocalypse in Riverdale.
While the plot seems to follow the same tropes as many other stories in the horror/zombie genre, what sets this book apart is the characters. I would never have thought it possible for such a concept to be applied to something as innocent and wholesome as an Archie comic. It really does make your head spin!
Having said that, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa should really be commended for his writing duties on this book. The whole premise of a zombie apocalypse in Riverdale could only be pulled off by someone who understands these characters and their motivations enough to be able to accurately convey how they would handle the end of the world as they know it.
Similarly, accolades should be showered on Francesco Francavilla for his outstanding artwork in this book. The color pallet is restricted to only a few main colors – orange, red, yellow and blue – and Francavilla uses each of them to their best and nothing feels over or underused in any of the panels.
As some readers may be aware, Afterlife with Archie has now been adapted into an ongoing series and has already spawned a spin off title; Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Both books are worth your time and I would have to say that Afterlife with Archie should be the number one book on your Halloween reading list this year.
Parental Concern: High. Parents could be forgiven for thinking that an Archie comic is really designed for younger readers, but this one features zombies and witchcraft in strong supply and should be avoided by children.