There is a common mistake made among emerging filmmakers which has been prevalent since the days that Sam Raimi was begging money from friends and family to shoot the first installment of his Evil Dead trilogy, and that is that horror films make an easy first resort. While there is some truth to that—horror films don’t always require huge budgets or expensive set pieces—there is a subtle but altogether critical qualifier missing from the equation, and I would amend my first statement to say that good horror films make an easy first resort. They do not, and neither do horror comics, when it comes right down to it.
True, with the right artist in combination with a competent writer, promising results have more certainty to them than a bunch of kids with a ten gallon drum of fake blood and an iPhone, but competency in itself is no guarantee of quality. Nor indeed is a great artist a guarantee of thrilling visuals if the script itself has more holes than the teenage stab victims it describes.
The Plot, written by Tim Daniel (Fissure, Enormous) and Michael Moreci (Wasted Space, Mall), drawn by Joshua Hixson (Shanghai Red), colored by Jordan Boyd (Deadly Class) and ultimately published by Vault Comics, not only challenges my most cynical assertions about the nature of horror entertainment, it eclipses them entirely.
From page one to page done, The Plot boils and thickens around some classically gothic story elements. I mean, it’s all there: Spooky manor house? Check. Girl with daddy issues? Check. Daddy with daddy issues? Double check. Throw in a hapless and hopelessly inadequate caretaker, a nosy cop and some genuinely terrifying situational horror and you’ve got a recipe for a yarn that would challenge the dark side of the Sisters Bronte on even their dreariest afternoon.
Daniel’s and Moreci’s script comes alive in some expertly cross cut scenes, wherein a description of the past becomes the narration for a rather dubious, and unexplained present. The dispensation of information comes slow and smooth like a barber sharpening a straight razor in the midst of a violent daydream. It’s comic making at its finest, and everything harmonizes perfectly from the letters on down.
Joshua Hixson’s Mazzuchelli-esque chops are in fine form, casting echoes of his bravura performance in last year’s historical revenge drama, Shanghai Red (Image). The colors explore a fairly broad range of psychological territory, from sickly poisonous greens to that muted shade of haunted mansion violet that signals the certainty of death, and probably lots of it if this issue is any indicator of what the entire series promises to unfold in its eight issue run.
The setup is a fairly simple one: Aging executive head of a pharmaceutical company shares a remembrance of his mentally ill father at a gala event celebrating his fortieth birthday and the unveiling of a new drug for—you probably guessed it—mental illness.
There’s a moment where we all sort of choke with this man as we know, anyone describing a father and a past like the one he just laid out is bound to have a few dead birthday clowns under his front porch (figuratively speaking, of course). At the same time, we’re introduced to another character, and in the context of the verbal narrative overlaying the visual, we are invited to make a comparison that will later feel a bit unwelcome once the story has kicked off its shoes and relaxed into its paces. Barring any further spoilers, there’s a bit of a segue into the lives of a much more believable version of the Baudelaire Orphans (Series Of Unfortunate Events, if you’re not familiar) less the dental nightmare baby, but easily as precocious and latently f*cked up.
Cast off into the care of their professionally reckless uncle, the children form a bit of a focal point for the rising action of this first chapter. True enough, the story appears to wrap itself like grave lichen around the uncle figure, but the pathos and humor—a good horror story should have both—tend to gravitate around the children. And, oh…The children. Call this an aside, but the last page of this first issue is a masterpiece of layouts and pacing. Hixson and Boyd have pooled their considerable talents here to make a single, silent page of Hitchcockian proportions. Seriously, if I had the scratch, I’d track down and buy the original art to hang where my TV will once have hung. It’s that gorgeous.
Subtracting my expectations from the sum total of my excitement before, during and after reading The Plot, I’m inclined to give this first outing a perfect score, meaning that this one far exceeded my already wildly high expectations. Whatever expectations I had over what the story was actually about were quickly subverted in favor of something much more complex and emotionally satisfying than just a creepy piece that is all atmosphere and no real substance. As stated from the outset, The Plot does not suffer from the naivety of a student horror film. Moreover, it’s more than just thinly veiled splatter punk allegory for the political turmoil of our times. As the comic itself asserts in its opening pages, in order to receive, you must first give.
So please: Do give this one a try. You won’t be disappointed.