October 10, 2013

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Halloween Horror: Rachel Deering's Anathema 4

The "naked" cover to issue 4, by Marc Laming
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 Rachel Deering
Illustrated by Chris Dibari and Mike Spicer
Self-Published (Tiny Behemoth Press)
Available digitally on Comixology

Saddled with a young girl, Mercy's quest to save her lover and rid the world of a terrible evil runs into a tangle of problems that her own werewolf powers can't solve as we move closer to the end of this excellent horror mini-series.

Last year, I pointed out Rachel's Anathema series to readers after picking up the first issue at Heroes 2012 (review here). It's a horror story by a person who knows the genre inside and out and is able to tell a story with classic elements but keep the overall feeling modern.

It's now at issue four, which was a good time to revisit the series and remind Panel Patter readers that it exists. I could think of no better reason than in this celebration of the wide variety of horror in comics. (And yes, I know she's got another horror project out there--we'll be getting to it later this month, trust me!)

By this point in the series, Mercy is collecting pieces of the heart of Karnstein, and if there's one complaint it that she hasn't failed yet. This time she comes mighty close, however, and loses something else instead. Despite her desire to be alone, Mercy keeps gaining allies, as if the world is refusing to allow her to be the outcast she wants to be after "failing" Sarah, her lover. It's a nice touch of depth that is part of what makes this a cut above other horror comics.

Deering isn't afraid to zig when others might zag, and that's what makes this issue notable. We've seen Mercy rip enemies to shreds in her were-form, but what happens when she's attacked as a human? The results aren't pretty, and if you have a fear of spiders, well, maybe you might want to move on to issue five! I love that Rachel took this tack, because it allows her to keep the series varied while using another tool of horror (a protagonist's ability to persevere no matter how bad things get) in her vast book of knowledge. Like showing a depowered superhero still willing to fight, Mercy's determination shows a depth to her character, which will make her ultimate victory--or perhaps loss!--all the more real for the reader.

Chris Dibari has the line art duties this time, and his first image, a full-page splash of Werewolf Mercy holding an innocent child with menacing panel narration. What will Mercy do? Is she ready to go over the edge? Her claws are blood red and there's offal and gore across her mouth and tastefully shred clothing. The color art of Mike Spicer blends perfectly with Dibari's work here and elsewhere in the issue. This setup puts the reader immediately on edge, waiting for Deering to take the plot in any number of directions.

From there, Dibari manages to give a werewolf's face emotions, and his creatures that Mercy must face are extremely creepy, starting with a zombie woman and her intimate relationship with spiders that might given even someone with my tolerance nightmares. It's really solid work with the monsters, which makes up for the fact that his backgrounds are a bit weak and generic, though part of that is due to the setting. I also thought Dibari's depiction of Mercy was a bit flat--she doesn't emote as well with her human face as she does as the werewolf, which is a bit odd.

The positions that Mercy fnds herself in for the action scenes also aren't as good as they might have been, which is unfortunate give the plot. When Mercy falls down a hole, it's more jazz hands than sheer terror. Given the priority of any horror comic should be the monsters, which Dibari absolutely nails, I can life with okay depictions of humans.

Anathema's story is compelling and re-reading the back issues for this review just reminded me how much it draws you in. We need Mercy to right the wrongs brought by persecution, just because she and her lover are gay. Horror is about picking your tropes, finding the right analogues, and mashing them together into something compelling, thrilling, and with a pinch of "eww, gross." Deering's got the recipe just right, and horror fans should be reading this one, if they aren't already.