Welcome back to Haunted MTL’s ongoing horror comic review feature, Graphic Content. In our fourth installment, we’ll be keeping up with John Constantine: Hellblazer and Sink. With previous favorite Killadelphia on break, we’re giving a new series a try titled The Grieviling, from a well-regarded horror comic team.
As always, we’re always looking for title suggestions. So please let us know in the comments what you’d like for us to tackle.
John Constantine: Hellblazer #6
Issue #6 is a single-issue story titled “Quiet.” This issue spends some quality time with John’s newest assistant, Noah who has been floating in and out of the hospice care where his mother resides since we were introduced to his character. This episode uses time with him to examine some of the other lives within the ward, but more to the point, provide a glimpse of the ills of society. This issue plays on a larger leftist critique on the Tory government though Noah’s own story. This is classic Hellblazer storytelling; monsters and metaphors. The comic turns the satirical eye to a building of the elderly and the infirm, unable to die, turning it into a site of stalking by a ghost, feeding on the lives of the dying.
A ghost that just so happens catches the eye of John Constantine thanks to Noah. While John is quick to figure out what is going on, the day is “saved” as much as it can be in Hellblazer through Noah. John may be forever damaged goods and a right bastard, but something about him seems to make others into better people. It’s a quick, single-issue story, but it’s fine stuff.
Aaron Campbell returns to art duties and as expected his art is a perfect fit for Constantine’s world. The illustrations are about as rough as prior issues, in that the forms are solid but the lines have a rougher quality to them, like a pencil or a pen that is drying up. It gives Hellblazer‘s London a certain aura. Especially given Jordie Bellaire’s coloring style. Characters are given full-color consideration whereas the backgrounds offer more unified and slightly limited pallets. There are, of course, the glimpses of the magical world which have a very painterly and abstracted air to them. The Campbell and Bellaire team-up continues to impress.(4 / 5)
John Constantine: Hellblazer #6 was written by Simon Spurrier, illustrated by Aaron Campbell, and colored by Jordie Bellaire.
Sink #3 is a story titled “A Head Full of Wasps” and continues the anthologized glimpse at the damaged lives of Sinkhill. This time around, however, the story starts us off in Edinburgh and introduces us to another Sinkhill toughie, but one who has changed significantly in their time away from the neighborhood. The story follows the old killer, at the behest of the children of a recently passed friend, returning for revenge.
It’s a fascinating issue revolving around identities, dead-names, and again, as with the prior two issues, the ways trauma manifests within and around people in this community. Also, the clowns are back. Horrifying. While this is definitely more of a crime book, I feel comfortable tackling it as horror. I mean, sure enough, horrific things happen. If you read horror for monsters then maybe with Sink it works because the monsters themselves tend to be so abstract. Sinkhill itself is a monster. Transphobia is a monster. The various horrible bastards of each story are monsters in their own ways.
While each issue has been anthologized in tackling different figures, there are connections being formed. I also hope we see more of Florence again. That’s an interesting view of the world I’d love to experience more.
Alex Cormack’s artwork here is stunning and the paneling in a particular moment with a shattered glass is fascinating and an example of the kind of visual storytelling only ever possible in comics. Of course, the comic is also suitably bloody with buckets of gore after a particularly brutal bar brawl. Of particular notice are the way Cormack tackles scarred and lacerated hands. (4 / 5)
Sink #3 was written by John Lees and illustrated and colored by Alex Cormack.
The Grievling #1
The Grievling is a two-part limited series that pairs horror-comic icon Steve Niles with artist Damien Worm. The first issue is a moody, simple tale of accidental murder and asks difficult questions of the culpability of minors.
Lily is the “weird” girl at her school. The sort of arbitrarily chosen punching bag of the normative-skewing children at her school. Lily’s time spent at the graveyard, at her mother’s grave freaks out local kids and on Halloween night their bullying of her results in tragedy. Lily comes out of the experience with a new lease on life and a strange new entity along for the ride. It’s very much like the first half of a pilot of a Netflix-style drama. It’s effective storytelling and there is a good setup to something larger, but it feels extremely calculated. Less a true desire to tell a story on its own terms and more of a desire to have a book to pitch to studios.
Granted, the story isn’t bad, and sure enough there is potential for an amazing show, but The Grievling is just a pre-visualization for something else. It’s not a comic because it needs to be a comic. It’s a marketing tool. It is a fine read, and it is interesting, don’t get me wrong.
It just feels so much like a marketing tool. The arbitrary two-issue length seems too calculated and whatever elements that interest most about the concept are not likely to be explored well enough. There is a compelling story in here about the dark side of children but that is likely not going to be explored well enough within two issues, leaving the antagonist children as just hollow characterizations of kids gone bad with little of the exploratory depth the characters deserve. Hell, Lily’s relationship with her father and the tragedy within her family also need room to breathe, but two issues just does not seem like enough space to tackle that.
Damien Worm’s artwork is great for the material and it’s no wonder Niles and Worm have continued to work together. They seem like a perfectly aligned creative entity. Their previous work on The October Faction is well regarded, and Worm’s style delivers for the story playing out in the first issue.
I just wish the end product didn’t feel so calculated for a Netflix deal.(3.5 / 5)
The Grievling #1 was written by Steve Niles and illustrated by Damien Worm.
Stay tuned for another installment of Graphic Content this month. If you have a comic you’d like to see us cover please let us know!
The Roots Grow Into The Earth
Launching next month The Roots Grow Into The Earth was a delightful read. It’s the premiere novel by horror author Bert S. Lechner. And after reading it, I hope it’s not his last.
The Roots Grow Into The Earth is a collection of nine short stories and novellas, including three previously published stories. The tales are all part of one larger story. A story of darkness, and madness. A story of a creature released that should never have been. That begins then to sink its roots into the Earth and infect innocent people far and wide.
One such example is The Wall. This is the story of a man named Sam and his wife Nat. They have a lovely normal life full of morning coffee and weekend pizza nights. Until Sam notices something on the wall of their home. While it appears to be nothing, a vision starts taking shape. With Sam’s help.
Another story that really moved me was The Orchestra.
Let me first stay that this was not a particularly fleshed out story. We do not see The Conductor before she’s infected. We don’t see the fallout. No real picture is painted for us, it’s more like a sketch.
In the case of The Orchestra, though, this is exactly the right choice. We don’t need to see the whole picture in gruesome technicolor to get what’s happening in this ill fated concert. We understand perhaps too well what’s occurring. And I thought that was brilliant.
I just want to start by gushing over this storytelling style. Short story collections always have a soft spot in my heart. In the case of The Roots Grow, all of the short stories come together to create one truly dark tale.
I also loved the clear Lovecraftian influence of this story. It’s clear that this was something that the author was going for, from interviews and social media comments. But I could tell before I saw any of that.
The story in The Roots Grow is one of madness. But more than that, it’s one of madness and destruction that the victims could not have avoided. There was no being clever enough to avoid these dark roots that touched them. There was no being strong enough, or selfless and good enough. If the roots reach out and touch you, you’ve already lost.
Finally, I want to extend some praise to my favorite character, Joanne. She is dealing with her own madness, her own demons. But she still finds kindness and strength to help others when they need her. Even against some truly dark odds.
What didn’t work
All that being said, I will say that some of the short stories felt incomplete. One prime example is What Lies In The Icy Soil. This appears to be nothing more than the tale of a person possessed by the need to dig. He digs up something that for sure shouldn’t be dug up. But there’s nothing more to the story. We don’t know who this person is. We don’t know who might be missing him, or what might come of this thing he dug up. As a part of the whole story, it fits. But if we are to consider every tale by its own merit, this one doesn’t have much of anything going for it.
That being said, this is one story in a round ten that wasn’t much of anything. The rest of the stories were wonderfully eerie, both on their own and as part of a whole.
The Roots Grow Into The Earth comes out on October 7th. And I think it would be a perfect addition to your Halloween reading list. (4 / 5)
Strange Eons Review: Cornfields and Eldritch Gods
“The elder gods arrived in the sky in early September, like an unholy aurora borealis stretching across a midnight sky. Their vastness blocked the sun, an unending eclipse, a liminal state, a breath that was inhaled but never let go. Lovecraft got it wrong, I think. It was not the sight of the gods that made humanity go mad. It’s what they destroy that hurts us. Somehow, these elder gods, these aliens, had killed time itself.” – Strange Eons by Keria Perkins
Strange Eons is a short story published in Bourbon Penn Issue 30 by Keira Perkins. Perkins, is an Indiana writer of short fiction and poetry that has also appeared in Non-Stalgia and The Heartland Society of Women Writers. Bourbon Penn is an online and print journal that specializes in speculative, odd, and surreal fiction. All issues are available to be read online for free or can be purchased as a paperback from Bookshop.org.
Strange Eons follows a young woman struggling to adjust to a life post-Lovecraftian apocalypse. This is a cozy story, the majority of which takes place as the woman lays in a cornfield and hides from well-meaning but unhelpful family members. While cozy, the piece is ominous, tackling the terror associated with pregnancy. Specifically, the terror that comes from living in a Red State and finding a significant lack of resources or options.
As a Hoosier capable of becoming pregnant, Strange Eons resonated with me. The imagery of cornfields and cicadas were very Indiana. However, so is a young woman covertly asking her sister to drive her to Illinois to receive healthcare. I loved how Perkins merged cosmic horror with the horror of receiving reproductive healthcare in Indiana but also the United States as a whole. All that was missing were predatory billboards advertising fake pregnancy centers! Talk about maddening and terrifying! Throughout the short story, the most horrific part of the young woman’s ordeal is not the eldritch gods appearing but her rather typical, hellish circumstances.
Aside from content, Strange Eons is well-written. It keeps you guessing where the story will go next. If you like a non-tropey cozy take on Lovecraftian horror or have struggled to receive reproductive healthcare, I highly recommend checking out Strange Eons! You can also check out the other stories in this issue of Bourbon Penn here. Or you can see what else Perkins is up to on her website.(5 / 5)
Walking Practice – A Book Review
Walking Practice is Dolki Min’s debut novella about an alien named Mumu, who must learn what it is like to perform as a human. Victoria Caudle, the translator of this unique Korean story, experiments with the English language to properly convey Min’s style. This, complimented with Min’s various drawings of the story’s protagonist, creates a poetic, outlandish reading experience that keeps you hooked from beginning to end.
Walking Practice: Never Enough Practice
After the destruction of their home planet, Mumu crash lands their spaceship in a desolate forest far from human life. They survive by having sex with humans then, with graphic violence and great diligence, eats them.
Mumu has a strict schedule and regimen for this process; they must shapeshift their body to the specific gender and personality their date is attracted to. While this process of gender conformation is a difficult one (as the alien will often tell us), it is nowhere near as hard as the ridiculous habit humans have of walking on two legs. This is one of the many obstacles Mumu must struggle with while playing the game of life.
Mumu is a rich, self-aware character who seems to trust only one human: the reader. They address us directly, asking questions and indulging us with their theories on what it is to live on Earth. They are knowledgeable about the complexities of personhood, and aware that a person’s gender and sex are complex and not one-size-fits-all. After years of experience in multiple genders, the alien theorizes that humans are treated as people as soon as they have a sex and gender assigned to them. However, depending on the sex and gender, that treatment is never equal.
While Mumu performs various genders and personalities to match the sexual desires of their future prey, they do not identify as human. At the end of the day, they go home, stock their human leftovers in the fridge and freezer, and unleash their natural form. Their only priority is their own survival and pleasure (which, arguably, is their most humanlike quality).
“I’ve learned that my face arouses homicidal impulses”
Walking Practice uses horror, science fiction and satire to create a passionate queer narrative. While Mumu is a serial killer who prides themselves on their murderous skills, it is hard not to feel for them when karma strikes back and they are hurt. The poetic elements of Min’s story and Caudle’s translation support our empathy for such a vicious character
Min’s artwork, depicting Mumu’s alien forms, complements Caudle’s stylistic choices. There is enjambment in several paragraphs, (which can be interpreted as the alien either having a flair for the dramatic or genuinely pausing to find the right words), thus enhancing their internal dialogue. There are moments when the Mumu’s stream of consciousness confuses reality from imagination. They will also lose all learned human skills and revert to their mother tongue; words either run together or are spaced apart, and sometimes there are unintelligible symbols. At the surface, it looks like a linguistic nightmare. Once immersed in Mumu’s narrative, it is a work of art.
Walking Practice‘s balance of ambiguity and transparency keeps the reader close while also allowing an array of interpretations. It is an eccentric piece of fiction that plays with the literary status quo, resulting in an entertaining affair with an unforgettable alien. (5 / 5)