October 4, 2013

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Halloween Horror: Dark Horse Creepy Volume 2

If you love horror,you've come to the right place! It's another entry in Panel Patter's Halloween Horror 2013! You can find all my entries by following this Halloween Horror tag.

Written by Various Creators, including Tim Truman, David Lapham, Joe R. Lansdale, Doug Moench, Jeff Parker, Rick Geary, and Peter Bagge.
Illustrated by Various Creators, including Tim Truman, Colleen Coover, Rick Geary, and Peter Bagge.
Published by Dark Horse Comics

I've been a big fan of the most recent issues of Creepy and its sister series Eerie, both resurrected from the world of Warren Publishing by Dark Horse. I figured it was time to go back and see what the older issues of the new series had to offer for a fan of anthology horror like me.

The results were a bit mixed, actually. Perhaps it's because of how damned good the last few Creepy issues were, but I found myself thinking, "Wow, these aren't quite as good as I'd hoped they'd be."

That doesn't mean this is a bad collection that should be avoided--far from it. It's just that when I've been giving the new issues a 9/10 on 'Rama, I kind of expected the same quality here. Instead, I think it's probably more on the level of a 7 or so, with certain stories being outstanding and others feeling like they were lacking a certain something that I look for in horror. The overall result is a good collection, but the hit to miss ratio is a bit higher than I had hoped for. I'm not going to mention every story--these are the highlights, both good and bad.

Leading off this collection is a story by Benjamin and Timothy Truman, and it's a great, longer piece. A magical finds her village taken over by an evil shaman who killed her son to gain power, and must fight in the land of the dead to bring him back. Written to echo the tales and legends of many an ancient culture, the story nails the tone of such a piece and Truman gives it just the right amount of visceral images, being careful not to overdo it. It's a subtler piece than you'd expect from Creepy, but it works incredibly well.

David Lapham follows up with a hack writer who tries to go back to his roots and finds fertile soil for his ideas. Filled quite nifty twists and turns, the story has a gotcha ending that I thought Lapham did quite well. The art's a bit static, but the end splash page makes up for it.

Sadly, Doug Moench, who I normally dig, is off his game with Murdicide, where a man who killed his girlfriend and her lover is haunted by himself. It's not helped by art that doesn't try to be menacing in any way, but the overall plot felt too 1970s for my taste.

In the next issue of the collection, Creepy goes West but forgets to take clear storytelling with it, as Joe R. Lansdale's art partner, Nathan Fox, tries to work like Paul Pope but ends up just giving readers a jumble of arms and legs, making it hard to tell what's going on. This one fell completely flat for me.

Perhaps the creepiest story here is Christopher Taylor and Jason Shawn Alexander's Commedia dell Morte!, in which a serial killer disguised as a clown kills parents he thinks are child abusers. Is he right? We'll never know, which is part of the quality of the story. Alexander's work is a bit like Jae Lee, and the style meshes well for the plot. This one's downright disturbing, and could be a trigger for some readers.

You probably know Bill Morrison best from his Simpsons comics work, but he's right at home here. Sadly, he only writes the story of  town plagued by vampires where the vampire hunter isn't afraid to use his foes as bait! This was another highlight of the collection for me, with Morrison capturing the B-movie flavor of the plot but also able to give it some life by changing around some of the standard roles. Wilfredo Torres is on art duties, with a blocky, line-filled style that makes everything feel appropriately just a bit off.

Dan Braun finally does a feature story, with The Shroud feeling very much like it could have sat beside Corben and Ditko in the classic incarnation of the magazine. A couple down on their luck made the find of a lifetime, but greed gets the better of the male partner and the devil doesn't like it when others offer the deal. The characters are suitably unpleasant, so seeing them meet their fate is fun. Patrick Reynolds' art isn't up to the level of the best, but he does the job with sketchy pencils and keeps the story going.

Can Jeff Parker write a straight horror story? You bet! Nineteen is an act of confession for a bad man, but he'll soon learn that what might be good for the soul isn't good for the mind. There's not a joke to be found, as the man finds out his fate, while Colleen Coover uses her signature style to make the protagonist look harried and the women he meets attractive and varied. Top notch short horror work.

About as far away from Coover's style as you can get, Rick Geary takes his fake woodblock work into an old-fashioned love story with a tragic-not horrible-twist. A man finally finds love among the dead, but can't deal with the side effects. This one never gets very scary, so for some that's going to cost it points, but it's a classic Gothic romance gone wrong, set in a modern age.

Emily Carroll's The Red Knife puts a different spin on domestic bliss. A mild housewife gets a strange gift and finds herself falling down into madness that she can't escape--and eventually has no desire to do so. The illustration style here is amazing, with random dialogue filling backgrounds, the use of stark, black areas to heighten the menace, and some really dramatic panel placements.

Rounding out the collection are some Creepy gag strips from Dan Braun and Peter Bagge. Like the Aragones bumpers of old, these are extremely funny, don't always require words, and are incredibly detailed within a cartoonish frame. It was good to see them, though I might have put them between each issue instead of at the end.

Creepy is a must read each quarter for horror fans. As a collection, it's not quite as solid, as reading short, punchy horror back to back to back loses some of its impact. Still, if you aren't a regular subscriber (why not?), then this is a way to catch up and read some really good stories. Just be prepared for a few that aren't quite ready for such a grave spotlight.