IN THE DARK contains over 20 all-new, original horror stories, an introduction by American Vampire, The Wake,and Severed writer, SCOTT SNYDER, and a frightful feature on the history of horror comics, through their rotten rise and dreadful decline, by comic book historian, MIKE HOWLETT!
In the Dark, by various authors and artists 8.0
‘In the Dark’ is a 300-page-plus horror anthology of 24 short stories by various authors and artists.
Bound in human flesh, this large 9″ x 12.5″ hardcover tome is an eye-catching collection spearheaded by comic book author Rachel Deering (Anathema, CREEPY, Diablo III) through a tremendously successful Kickstarter campaign in 2013.
“An anthology book is a tough sell in the direct market and, as a result, a real risk for publishers. The comic book climate is not as it once was. There was a time when books like TALES FROM THE CRYPT, CREEPY, NIGHTMARE, and HAUNT OF HORROR were flying off the shelves, but those days are behind us. The modern day comic buyer has less of an interest in terse terror tales, and that lack of interest is reflected in the stock of your local comic shop. SO…here we are!”
*taken from the book’s KS page
I literally have no clue how I heard of this or how it found its way in my reserve list at the local library. Could it be that dearly departed (due to cutbacks, not his untimely demise…) librarian who used to just put books he thought I’d like on my waitlist? Or have I developed a split personality and the other half spends much of its time requesting items?
(If so, then I’m glad I don’t have a credit card! I can only imagine the purchases my darker half would make…)
In any event, I had been looking forward to reading this (and the dozens of other books I’ve borrowed) and I was very pleased to see that it drew inspiration from the afore-mentioned old EC Comics. And not just stylistically and/or tonally: many of these short stories are separated by an homage to the ads you’d find in them back in the day.
1. Murder Farm, by Cullen Bunn and Drew Moss: A bit brief but nonetheless creepy, this one finds a bunch of teenagers going to a barn where a farmer once hung himself, to see if his ghost might make an appearance. Although they’re not afraid, they soon realize that his ghost may not be the thing to be wary of… 7.5
2. The Unseen, by Justin Jordan and Tyler Jenkins: This one is disturbing because we realize from the onset that the protagonist is about to murder a pair of children and attempts to justify it to us. Then we discover the reason why, and we understand her dread – if not her actions. What led to all this is questionable, but still, it’s shocking. 7.25
3. Famine’s Shadow, by Rachel Deering and Christine Larsen: A bit more traditional and predictable, this one takes us to a southern farm that is dying off. The protagonist is the eldest child, whose mom left them alone to live with their alcoholic father. But the girl meets an eerie creature in the barn and is assured that it can bring them peace… 7.0
4. The Guilloteens, by Michael Moreci, Steve Seeley and Christian Wildgoose: A handful of teenagers go to an abandoned mansion and fight creatures with weapons and undisclosed skills and powers. It’s mostly an action piece, with nearly no development – we don’t find much out about the characters or the villains, aside for the fact that one guy likes the girl, but she likes the older boy she invited. Whoopteedoo. 7.0
5. All Things Through Me, by Mike Oliveri and Mike Henderson: A channeler meets with a pregnant girl and her mother-in-law because they wonder where the unborn kid’s father is. The channeler discovers that the son/bf is dead and lets them know, all the while passing on a message to them. On his way back, he gets stopped in the forest by the deceased’s crime buddies, who want to silence him. But he has other powers than just his link with the dead… 7.25
6. When the Rain Comes, by Steve Niles and Damien Worm: A bit more melancholy, and the artwork represents that ably. A man and his son sit on the porch of their house, which is near a creek. As the waters rise, a creature is left on their lawn. Despite his father’s warnings, the son touches the creature’s cocoon – he may or may not return. 7.5
7. The Body, by Tim Seeley and Stephen Green: A story that takes place in Chicago’s inner city, with Jasmine being chased by gang members who don’t take kindly to her sending the police to investigate her bf’s disappearance. Lucky for her that The Body is watching out for her. But who or what is The Body? And why is it saving her from the gangs? 7.25
8. Final Meal, by Christopher Sebela and Zack Soto: This one revolves around food; it suggests that eating can derive the most pleasure when one becomes aware of the rarity of the experience – which may be true and may explain why some people seek out odd culinary experiences. And this is what our protagonist does. It’s disturbing, even eerie – in a good way. I’m no great fan of the ending, though. 7.25
9. In Plain Sight, by Tom Taylor and Mack Chater: A bit predictable, and quite bare bones as far as plot development goes, but I enjoyed this twist on an old classic. I would like to read more about this particular character, as this short only served to whet my appetite. 7.0
10. Why So Sad?, by James Tynion IV and Eryk Donovan: I kind of like the concept of this one, which has a new student prey on the more sullen ones at this school… and making them happy. It’s a strange notion, but I liked that aspect more than the repetitive quality of the preying – which, by the fourth time, was feeling a bit old. And the creature? Forget it. 7.0
11. Not All There, by Duane Swierczynski and Richard P. Clark: This one’s a bit creepy because it involved the slow dismemberment of a character by a malicious spirit and his apparent descent into madness – as per everyone around him. It’s perhaps a bit too weird to feel real, so it wasn’t scary. But it’s shiver-producing. Brrr… 7.25
12. Shadows, by Matthew Dow Smith and Alison Sampson: The new owner of a manor discovers a disembodied voice in the basement and becomes obsessed with it. It’s not especially gripping, but it plays on atmosphere in a way that’s reminiscent of Poe, and that’s a huge plus. These days, horror consists of visceral shocks more often than not – so I appreciated this one’s subtlety. 7.5
13. Doc Johnson, by F. Paul Wilson and Matthew Dow Smith: A newly-arrived smalltown doctor makes a house call to treat a well-known wife-beater, thief, cheat and liar – and discovers that something’s not quite right with his wound. It’s more ‘The X-files’ or ‘The Twilight Zone’ than horror, per se, and I wasn’t convinced by the development. 6.75
14. The One That Got Away, by Scott Snyder and Nate Powell: This one’s got a good premise in that a boy is being stalked by a sinister character, who chases him into his basement. But we discover that the stalker may not be the bad guy after all. I love when the lines blur like that, even if this one should have been developed further. 7.0
15. Proximity, by Sean E. Williams and Andy Belanger: This is by far my least favourite of the set, for two reasons: firstly, it feels more like something out of Métal Hurlant than a horror anthology (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), and, secondly, because it doesn’t properly establish its characters so we’re not always sure who’s who and what’s what. The exposition is also awkward. It’s a decent idea done poorly. 4.5
16. The Lost Valley of the Dead, by Brian Keene and Tadd Galusha: This one’s great, even though I don’t like zombies or dinosaurs. All the plot elements are already very familiar, but I liked how they were mashed up together to created something fun, if a bit outlandish. Plus which it’s by far the longest of all these stories, which means it was properly developed. 7.75
17. Set Me Free, by Jody Leheup and Dalibor Talajic: A bit meh, we find ourselves trapped in an elevator with two people. Both have their secrets, but one is even deadlier than the other. Neither character was that interesting or appealing to me – and since they were the only people there, well… 5.25
18. The Road to Carson, by Nate Southard and Christian Dibari: This is a “been there done that” story about a family trying to skip town in the Old West, only to be stopped by a gang – but guess who turns the tables on whom…? 6.0
19. Body in Revolt, by Thomas Boatwright: I kind of liked this one because of the tongue-in-cheek meta references, being about a neurotic comic book author trying to get his work done but worrying about all sorts of things – only to find out that he’s got even more to worry about. Not great, but amusing – and I loved the ending. 7.5
20. The Cage, by Ed Brisson and Brian Level: Great concept, but far too short to fully savour, this one’s about a couple who have to deal with the husband’s lycanthropy – by locking him in a cage overnight, in the basement of a secluded home. You know that can’t end well. It has a nice twist, but I really would have wanted this to be explored more in depth. 7.25
21. The Girl on the Corner, by Paul Tobin and Robert Wilson IV: This one finds a couple visiting New York for the first time and going on New York Ghost Tours, which takes them to a street corner that has long been haunted by the ghost of a mysterious woman. While I don’t much like the end, which feels a bit sloppy, unfocused, I really enjoyed how this story was told, with many theories around who the woman is and an explanation of the impact this has had on the city. It’s not perfect, but it was well thought-out and fleshed out. 7.75
22. Swan Song, by Rachel Deering and Marc Laming: This presumably takes place in Germany, some 200 years ago, and it finds a caravan making its way through the snow with a coffin dragged behind it. From the coffin, a voice sings a song. It catches the ear of a young man who follows the caravan and, when the old man steps away, decides to find out who or what is behind that song. Obviously, this goes badly. I didn’t like that the song was in German as I have no understanding of German and there was no text other than that – so the strip felt a bit unidimensional, especially since it seems like a déjà-vu story. Perhaps the lyrics revealed something I’m missing…? 6.75
23. Inside You, by Marguerite Bennett and Jonathan Brandon Sawyer, by Valerie D’Orazio and David James Cole: A tale of possession, it recounts the story of a 100-lbs loser who now finds himself in the body of a jock who used to bully him. Interesting idea and twist, but not especially frightening in the end. So it left me somewhat unsatisfied. 7.0
24. Gestation: This takes place in Britain during the 1800s and it finds a woman under pressure to bear her spouse a child. He’s been sexually harassing the staff, and she herself is having an affair with her maid. The maid has a solution to the problem, however, and it’s a bit unearthly – she’s not all she appears to be. It’s a bit creepy, but no more. 7.0
The book is wrapped up with a diverse and spooky pin-up gallery, followed by a brief history of the horror comic genre, which itself is spruced up by terrific covers from those classic comics of yesterday. This wasn’t that interesting to me; it was really just a stream of names and dates, and I find history boring – even the history of horror comics.
The one advantage of an anthology is that, since the stories are shorter, even though you don’t like one you know you’ll be entertained by the next one. Sure, they’re mixed bags, but there’s less at stake given their reduced length. They also make it easy to discover new authors and artists, even if you were initially reading it because of someone specific.
Essentially, it’s a no-fail situation.
And that’s my assessment of ‘In the Dark’. I don’t find all anthologies reliable, but this one had enough diversity in it and the overall quality was quite high – so it was quite enjoyable to read. I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to read something a bit eerie, or creepy, or spooky. And I’m quite sure I’ll be picking it up as soon as I can.
I’m not sure that I’ll be reading it in low-level lighting, though.