In recent years horror comics have had a resurgence here are a few you can pick up right now.
Based on Clive Barker’s film and his book Cabal ,on which the notoriously butchered film is based ( sidenote a long awaited Director’s Cut is set to arrive soon, if you’re in the U.S anyways) Nightbreed from BOOM! Studios is story of a race of “monsters” that have lived in the shadows alongside man since the dawn of time.
Now though they are fewer in number and scattered.
With a story from Barker and written by Marc Andreyko the first issue has several narratives in different time periods playing out concurrently. As the story unfolds it introduces several of the characters, Lylesberg is an elder of the Nightbreed and is seen talking to someone out of frame in the present day, back in 1845 we’re introduced to Peloquin who finds himself entangled with a lynch mob chasing some runaway slaves in Louisiana, whilst in 1940’s Boston it’s revealed that Shuna is working in a high end brothel providing services for select clients like Senator Emery.
From the start the story introduces the very different members of the Nightbreed, both in appearance and mannerism. Lylesberg’s beard and robes indicating his status of an elder of some sort who is relaying the past of the Nightbreed and their struggles to find their home Midian a vast Necropolis hidden underground. Peloquin meanwhile has a somewhat reptilian appearance sporting dreadlock like tendrils rather than hair, he is the most visibly hostile too brutally attacking his assailants with no mercy and mocking their cries to God as he disembowels them. The third character Shuna is an example of how some find the Nightbreed exotic, intoxicating and attractive rather than repulsive creatures to be shunned. A humanoid with porcupine like quills along her body Shuna is the secret of the high end brothel she works in.
The art from Piotr Kowalski captures the various different moods of the narrative well, Lylesburg’s story is all flickering flames, shadows and tranquillity, Peloquin’s however is one of savage action with a frenetic pace and well utilised full page images. Both of these contrast with Shuna’s story with Kowalski capturing her sensuality (a key element of much of Barker’s work) vulnerability and fear as she realises what jealousy can do to a man.
Nightbreed is a brilliant example of intelligent horror, it’s not without its share of viscera but it all works in the narrative context rather than just catering to the gorehound contingent and it’s rare to see a comic with such potential and it isn’t just recycling tired old hackneyed tropes.
Originally appearing in the 70’s Vampirella was created by Forest J Ackerman with an iconic look designed by Trina Robbins. The first Vampirella magazine from Warren Publishing featured an iconic cover by world renowned fantasy artist Frank Frazetta.
Flash forward a few decades and Dynamite is publishing Vampirella.
The publisher’s approach to the title seems to be similar to that of one of their other titles, Red Sonja , which was somewhat unfairly overlooked until acclaimed writer Gail Simone took over writing duties. Since then the perception of the title has changed with Simone’s writing gaining critical acclaim.
For Vampirella, another title often perceived as a sexist throwback to the comics of yesteryear due to the characters skimpy attire (despite it being designed by influential comics artist and writer Robbins) the publisher opted to ask acclaimed horror writer Nancy A Collins to write the new series for Vampirella’s 45th anniversary.
Collins take on the character is definitely one worth checking out, a modern take on the character which still embraces the character’s inherently pulpy horror roots.
Vampirella finds herself charged by the Vatican to investigate the kidnapping of a young girl by the nefarious Cult Of Chaos, lead by a figure from Vampirella’s past, only things don’t exactly to plan and Vampirella finds her world is thrown into turmoil. Suddenly friends become enemies and enemies become friends as she has to face a Vatican wet works team with help coming from the most unlikely of sources.
There’s lots to like about Collins’ take on the iconic character, there’s some great dialogue noting that if you can’t escape your past you should embrace it. This works both narratively for the situation Vampirella finds herself in and is also a knowing wink to the reader about her costume as we see her wardrobe is full of other “normal” clothes too. Also her wearing her costume under a trenchcoat is a neat practical touch and avoids things becoming too T & A which is one of things unfairly associated with the character and its proto Bad Girl roots. A good example of how this take on the character is set in the modern world is the way she finds herself evicted from her lush appartment and it also establishes that she’s living under an assumed name rather than having the name Vampirella on the paperwork, which would be a bit ridiculous.
Collins doesn’t waste time with stodgy exposition either, the narrative hits the ground running and things in Vampirella’s world just unfold and happen without clunky explanations as to who Vampirella is, why she isn’t like other vampires and why she’s working for the Vatican. Some might see these as glaring and confusing omissions but rather they are questions left to be answered to make space for the unfolding plot, this makes for a much better and more fluid reading experience.
Patrick Berkenkotter’s art matches the tone well too handling everyday real world elements like the young girls bedroom with its stuffed animals and the more pulpy elements like dark rituals in graveyards. The character designs are good too with Father Nicodemus, the leader of The Vatican’s wet works squad looking like a grizzled scarred war veteran.
Vampirella is probably better known as a pin up character, especially considering Frazetta’s famous painting but this shows there’s actually a story to go with the character.
Caliban from Avatar Press is the latest of several titles that acclaimed writer Garth Ennis has written for the publisher, an atmospheric sci-fi horror based around the titular space faring mining/exploration vessel and its crew.
The vast majority of the ships personnel, miners, scientists and more are in cryosleep leaving just a small crew to run the ship as it flies through warp. Things take an unexpected turn when the Caliban collides with an alien craft and fuses with it whilst in Warp.
One of the best things about Caliban is it takes its time to go places, slowly building up atmosphere and leaving plenty of space for character work. Early on tech whizz Nomi establishes that travelling through space and the warp is actually pretty mind numbingly tedious, to the point that it can actually have adverse effects on the crew despite undergoing rigorous screening and testing before they can join. This is told through a diary of sorts that she is writing whilst characters interact around her. Nomi’s right hand woman is San who fixes the tech, or as Nomi puts it “I only talk to them, you fix them”.
The story focusses more on a creeping sense of dread as the crew have to deal with an escalating series of events rather than high octane action pieces. It’s the way that characters react to these situations that makes much of the narrative as underlying sentiments come to the surface as the situation changes, like one of the crew members ranting at San “you and the other dyke get on with your jobs”, which the naïve and oblivious Nomi is confused by not even suspecting that her friend is actually a “dyke”.
Ennis utilises classic narrative elements well, exploring an alien environment, an unreliable communications system, a crew that has to split up, mysterious deaths. There’s a constant sense that something is going to happen but not really knowing what in a similar vein as Ridley Scott’s cinema classic Alien or Paul Andersen’s Event Horizon.
This atmosphere and creeping sense of menace is aided by Facundo Percio’s evocative and moody art which is also incredibly detailed, capturing both characters expressions and the various monitors, banks of buttons and various other functional looking tech that makes up the interior of the Caliban. The inks and colour palette colour from Sebastian Cabrol and Hernan Cabrera further add to the ominous atmosphere. Later issues give an epic sense of scale too as the crew find themsevles having to venture out and explore.