Halloween Horror: The God Machine Volume 1

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 and Illustrated by Chandra Free
Published by Archaia

A trio of quirky gods keep things going, but the balance is about to be disturbed big time as a teen who loses his girlfriend tragically is given a chance to save her. But the only way to do that might be to end the reign of the Gods. Plagued by visions of monsters and things man wasn't meant to see, the teen tries to figure out what to do, even as the Gods themselves try to figure out him. It's a balance of humor and horror as Chandra Free begins her ongoing story in this first volume.

I couldn't think of a better comic to start off my Halloween Horror series this year than this book, which I had been meaning to review for awhile. After meeting Chandra at a con back in 2010, I quickly became a fan of her work, which features a dynamic and flowing style that just barely keeps within the bounds of reality. Free takes a page from the abstractions of Bill Sienkiewicz, designing her pages to flow from image to image, ranging from finely worked details to times where the linework is almost arbitrary. The style changes depending on the location of the story, the plot, and other factors, showing Free's amazing range of artistic skill. Best of all, she's not afraid to take a few tricks from the world of manga, either, with little asides, written notes, and other tricks that readers of manga will be very familiar with.

This blending of styles and ideas won't work for everyone. If you like your comic to be extremely linear in its approach to the art with strict adherence to panel borders and anatomy, this isn't going to be the book for you. Chandra's pages are an exploration of form, using the entire space as a canvas. Some may be cram-packed with tight panels that give the reader exaggerated reaction shots while others float free, with just the faintest hints of structure. All of them move the story forward in their own way, and the changes match neatly with the off-beat, off-kilter story that she's telling about Guy (the love-sick, possibly crazy teen) and the Gods who run things perhaps a bit too haphazardly.

One of the things I love about God Machine is the way Free easily switches between breezy whimsy and absolutely creepiness. She can show Good God looking entirely innocent and cute (despite sleeping in a coffin) on one page and then, without missing a beat, show Guy's face melting after being kissed by a demented version of his lost love. Unafraid to show sexualized scenes, Chandra nails the idea of being both attractive and revolting at the same time, which isn't easy at all. Her color art is top notch, with a palate that runs from drab browns to vivid reds and eerie shades of green and purple.

It's a great combination that's helped by a solid storyline. While I'd recommend this one for Free's art alone, she's also done a great job creating a gothic mystery that will leave the reader wondering what is going on, but in a good way. Her characters are immediately engaging, though admittedly a bit cliche at times. She does a good job of making the reader want to read more about them before delving headlong into the plot. We especially need to like Guy, because his pain and frustration and rage against the way his life has turned out is a key to liking the story of The God Machine. The gods are quirky, sure, but they also are a bit aloof from the problems of the world, as all good gods are. It's Guy and his frustration at learning that maybe someone is manipulating his life that ground this book in reality, and that works very, very well.

I also need to point out here at Chandra has a great ear for dialogue. In the wrong hands, these characters would be tin-eared, saying the things that people think outsiders say. But Free is herself a bit of an outsider, the kind of person who isn't in with the in crowd because of her interests or style. She's the type of person I've hung out with all my life. The characters in this book are just like her, and that shows. They speak naturally, reference the right things, and express the same level of cynicism that I might were I suddenly thrown into the world of the supernatural. That quality in a comic should not be underestimated.

God Machine is only partly finished, and sadly, Volume 2 isn't announced yet. I really hope Chandra is able to keep the story going, because I want to see what happens next and get another collected edition of her amazing art work. In the meantime, I'll keep following her on Twitter to see samples of her work, which I highly recommend you do--after you add this great comic to your horror collection.