Summary: Joe Hill’s New York Times bestselling novel, NOS4A2, introduced readers to the terrifying funhouse world of Christmasland and the mad man who rules there: Charlie Talent Manx III. Now, in an original new comic miniseries, Hill throws wide the candy cane gates to tell a standalone story that is at once both accessible to new readers and sure to delight fans of the book.
Wraith: Welcome to Christmasland, by Joe Hill and Charles Paul Wilson III 7.25
After reading ‘NOS4A2‘ a few years ago, I’d heard that a spin-off comic book was also being published. I had enjoyed the novel, but not necessarily enough to track down the comic, which was to be entitled ‘Wraith: Welcome to Christmasland’.
Thankfully, my local library picked it up.
‘Wraith’ is a prequel to Joe Hill’s ‘NOS4A2’. It follows a handful of convicts who make a break for it and take their guards hostage. Looking for a way to avoid being caught again, one of them calls a favour from one Charlie Manx, owner of Christmasland.
Picking them up in The Wraith, an ancient hearse that he’s driven for “the better part of a century”, he takes Chess Llewellyn, Agnes Claiborne, Dewey Hansom, Kevin Coombes, and the creepy sideshow worker Denis Sykes to his eerily magic kingdom.
And so our cops and cons not only have to escape the clutches of the creepy little children populating Manx’s nightmarescape, they also have to find a way out. But little do they know that Manx is not just dangerous, he’s also omnipotent in Christmasland.
As a fan of Joe Hill’s I was certainly intrigued to read another story revolving around Charlie Manx. The prospect of visiting Christmasland and revealing its many secrets was rather appealing to me. What lies behind the storefronts and the amusement park, exactly?
Sadly, we never really delve into that. The seven-part series, which includes a prologue and an epilogue, is a quick visit to and escape from Christmasland. As a largely visual medium, the comic isn’t exactly the greatest vehicle for exposition and character development.
Still, Hill did his best to flesh out a few characters, most notably Chess Llewellyn, a middle-aged man who has been charged with assault for exacting his revenge on the doctor he blames for his son’s death. The incident and his relationship with his son are explored.
But, otherwise, it’s all about Christmasland.
It’s not brilliant, there quite a few plot gaps, but it delves into the familiar and enjoyable territory that Hill and Stephen King return to regularly: one misunderstood (i.e. relatable) character looking for redemption who is mixed in with people he doesn’t belong with.
And that’s perfectly fine (though one has to wonder why the formula still works after so many years). Where the book stumbles is with the Prologue, featuring the contrived set-up of Charlie Manx telling a little girl his story while he’s driving her to Christmasland.
Pooh… what a cheap way to do it.
It briefly tells of his childhood and then it skips decades, telling us that he doesn’t really remember any of it. This felt like a cop out, as though Hill didn’t know himself or couldn’t be bothered. I mean, at least a page of some highlights would have been nice…
The Epilogue is better, in that it’s mostly text-based with a few minimalistic sketches to embellish it. This tells the story of Tom, a young boy who was raised to be a grifter, and one day scammed Charlie Manx into buying a worthless property for Christmasland.
Naturally, it doesn’t end well.
Though it was an odd choice of format for a comic book series, at least the Epilogue was a complete story and it fleshed out its characters properly. But why it’s considered an epilogue is beyond me since it actually pertains to the Prologue, not the primary story.
Meh. Moving on…
Charles Paul Wilson III’s art was serviceable, but not great. To me, it looked as though Wilson was trying to evoke the style adopted by Rodriguez in ‘Locke and Key‘ – but either he didn’t have the time or the skill to emulate it. In comparison this feels like a rush job.
Having said this, ‘Wraith’ was enjoyable enough, and it succeeds in capturing Hill’s vision of a “sleazy ’80s horror film”. But it’s a little bit too thin for my tastes; at the very least, I would have liked to go behind the scenes of Christmasland a little bit more.
Well, alright: A lot more.
(It is Christmasland after all.)