October 30, 2014

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Halloween Horror: Horror Show #1

If you love horror,you've come to the right place! It's another entry in Panel Patter's Halloween Horror 2014! You can find all our eerie entries by following this Halloween Horror tag.

Written by George Lennox
Art by Chris Connolly (A Late Night in Royston), Jason Mathis (Lost Souls), and Norrie Millar/James Devlin (Partyman)
Published by Cult Empire Comics

A new horror anthology gets its start with a trio of tales from the publisher's editor in chief, designed to evoke a more traditional feel of older horror comics and movies. Two guys don't listen to advice, a woman scorns the warnings of a ghost, and a party of jerks sees their soiree go straight to hell in a comic that definite is meeting its objective. How much you like the comic will be based on whether or not the style is for you.

It probably wasn't a stretch to think of Panel Patter as a place to send a review copy of an indie horror comic with a goal of classical storytelling. If you know anything about my taste, it's a pretty safe bet that you've sold me on your premise, at the very least. I once used to describe myself as growing up on Marx Brothers, Universal Horror films, and Warner Brothers, so yes, I have a strong backing in the classics.

My comics taste also has a strong love for classic horror, though oddly not so much for the 70s Marvel stuff.* Give me some old EC, Ditko Archives, classic Creepy/Eerie--anything like that and I'm happy as a clam.

The trouble is that most of those things were made in a particular cauldron, and trying to recreate it can often fail badly. For as good as Dark Horse's new Creepy can be, not all of the writers understand the formula, which means that you get stories that feel very stilted or who go for the cliche instead of just trying to tell a story in that vein.

So where does this new series, Horror Show, fall? Not bad, actually. It would certainly be unfair to expect people who are still honing their craft as writers and artists to be comparable to those who work on the higher-end horror books. When I examine something like this, I'm looking at against similar titles. On that score, it fits fairly well, perhaps a bit on the obvious conclusion side, but there's a sense of fun within the proceedings that's sometimes lost when creators try to go for a more somber horror moment. Part of what makes horror work is knowing what's going to happen, yet still being entertained. Can Horror Show make that work?

The answer so far is a bit mixed. In the first story, "A Late Night in Royston," two guys try to get into the pants of a pair of attractive women at a bar, only to find they are of course horrible creatures out for their blood and guts. That's a classic horror trope, which is the point, so that's fine as far as it goes. I also liked the fact that it felt set during the height of the 70s drive-in horror films, too, given the illustration style of Chris Connolly. There's a slight fudge to the line work, too, which gives it a bit of a hazy, not-quite-real look, which serves the story well. As with many books of this type, the action itself is a bit on the stilted side, with Connolly not quite able to convince me of fluid movement, though he does a good job of selecting what we see in each panel, which pace out nicely across the story. George Lennox's dialogue is okay, but there's nothing spectacular, and he's a bit quick to fall back on the cross defense against creatures of the night. Overall, it's an okay start for the anthology.

Unfortunately, the middle story didn't do much for me. A woman sees other dead women, who warn her against something nebulous, which ends up coming into play at the end of what I understand is a two-part story. It's way too talk-heavy for a comic, with Lennox having her debate a therapist, and there's no life in the art to make up for it. Jason Mathis tries to do some use of panels as separation devices, but overall, there's no sense of creepiness in the figures, their placement, or their world.

My favorite, though, was definitely the closing story, "Partyman," which looks like it walked right out of an old issue of Creepy, took a bath in color, and stopped by to say hello. Norrie Millar's linework is clearly inspired by the old code-dodging magazine-size comics, with its realistic portrayals touched with a bit more rounding than normal and positioning of characters to get the best reaction shots. After a quick set up, an unliked party goer returns with a gift from hell to take revenge in the most gruesome fashion. It's an over-the-top gorefest that's close to comedic in its level of violence, matched by dialogue that's supposed to cause you to roll your eyes. Lennox and Millar are on the same page here, and it's turned to about 1977, making it something that fits right in my wheelhouse. James Devlin's coloring brings it to life--or death, if you prefer--with the dead man's red skin looking amazing against the more natural tones of the party people who rejected him.

Just a great time, and I'd like to see more of that style in this anthology rather than trying to go for an actual scary story, which I think hurt the middle tale. Lennox is at his best when he's being unrestrained in channeling older horror.

Overall, Horror Show #1 won't be for everyone, but those who like classic horror comics, especially the Warren stuff, should check this out and see what you think. I think it has a lot of promise, and I hope they get to keep going past issue one. For any new indie series working in a floppy, color format, facing the ability to keep publishing may be the scariest thing of all.

You can buy Horror Show #1  at the publisher's website.

*I tried reading it in the Essentials, and maybe I'll try again sometime if they're on the Marvel app. But while the visuals were cool a lot of the time, the walls of text bored me to death, and my only fear was blindness after reading them all.