A Twisted Dark, Vol. 1 Review – The Horror in Your Head

TITLE: Twisted Dark, Vol. 1
AUTHOR: Neil Gibson
PENCILLERS: Atula Siriwardane, Caspar Wijngaard, Heru Prasetyo Djalal, Jan Wijngaard, Ant Mercer, Dan West
FORMAT:
Softcover
PUBLISHER:
TPub
PRICE: 
$14.99
RELEASED: August 2014

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Twisted Dark is a series that lives up to its name in more ways than one.

From the UK-based TPub and author/editor/founder Neil Gibson, Twisted Dark is a collection of short psychological horror and suspense tales. This is indeed the twisted and dark underbelly of the human psyche. We’ll meet Rajeev, who rises to power in Dubai through manipulation and deceit. There’s Soames, a patient in a psychiatric ward convinced everything around him is a twisted game. We also have Ashbjorn, whose fractured mind is trying to shield him from the unspeakable pain of his horrific reality. These stories and characters stand alone for now. But they all exist in the shared universe of Twisted Dark. They may not know it, but their paths have already started to cross…

What I really enjoy about Twisted Dark is that it showcases the versatility of the black and white comic book. You’ve got so many different methods and textures on display here, at times from the same artist. Caspar Wijngaard, for instance, does “Routine.” We see deep blacks, a lot of jagged lines, and a high black and white contrast. He also does the cover, so it’s the style you expect when you open the book. But then later, we get “Cocaina,” in which he lowers the contrast, and starts playing with grays. His brother Jan Wijngaard also gets to show off with two stories. I would classify his style as softer than Caspar’s, and bit sketchier. It’s one thing to do that between different titles. It’s another to do it within a single volume, and is a real credit to both men as artists.

I stumbled across this book at C2E2 this year. It’s got a three-page opening story that provides a hell of a hook, and an appetizer for the book’s brand of storytelling. I love that first page (shown right). There’s a haunting sense of foreboding in the art alone. And then you read that lone bit of text at the bottom. Now that‘s a hook.

Most of these stories have a narrator with a very storybook-ish voice. Everything’s very plainly spoken, and seemingly unbiased. There’s a haunting quality in that. Especially after we see all these awful and disturbing things happen. We have no indication that the narrator is part of the horror itself in any way. But he’s your messenger, so you develop a subtle fear of him (her?) as well.

Once you hit the second or third story, you inevitably recognize a pattern to the storytelling. It’s the classic twist take on horror. (Twisted Dark…get it?) At some point in the story, you learn that your main character isn’t who you thought they were, or that they were being deceived somehow. Evil and/or bloodshed commences. You learn not to get too invested in who you’re seeing, and you’re always on the look-out for the swerve. This has obvious pros and cons. When you have an anthology of twist stories, they almost aren’t even twists anymore. They’re stories that adhere to a format. “Windowpayne” comes at about the midpoint of the book, and is about an entrepreneur with a facial scar who creates windowpanes that double as a sort of television. The character is interesting, but the story has an ending you can see a mile away because of the story patterns.

In apparent recognition of that pattern, the majority of the book’s subsequent twists become a little less jarring, though often no less violent. “Munchausen’s Little Proxy,” which is about a woman addicted to surgery, is more of a character piece than a narrative with a twist. Ditto for “The Pushman,” about a train worker from Tokyo. As there are several more volumes of Twisted Dark, I’m curious to see how the stories are positioned going forward.

On that note, all these stories and characters apparently exist in the same universe, and there are connections to be found. Perhaps I’m simply not eagle-eyed enough to spot them, as none were apparent to me as I closed the book. But I don’t doubt they’re there.

I appreciate the psychological component of Twisted Dark. While there’s no shortage of violence, they aren’t stories about violence, or gore, or monsters, or any of that. Twisted Dark recognizes that the scariest place of all is the human mind…

There’s an argument to be made that “The Routine” is the book’s best tale. It’s got a very horror-ish look, and it’s the first major twist we see, so it’s the most intense. But the character that gets the most development is Rajeev, by virtue of being the only one who’s story gets a sequel. He starts off as a humble but average man from south India who becomes a slave laborer, but in time rises to power. I wouldn’t call Rajeev’s tale the best in the book, but it does get the most page time, and thus the most progression. The second story, “A Heavenly Note,” is somewhat unique. While Rajeev rises to power in the first tale, the second one is about maintaining that power. That’s not always something you see in stories about the rise of tyrants. Obtaining power is one thing. Keeping it is another.

Twisted Dark would still work as a series featuring self-contained short stories. What we get is fairly simplistic, at least at this point. But the book manages to make good on it’s name. Plus, the idea that all these stories will somehow bleed into one another adds another level of intrigue. If you like your horror a little less gory, and more psychological, Twisted Dark is up your ally.

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A Review of The Walking Dead #167 – Andrea’s Fate

TITLE: The Walking Dead #167
AUTHOR: Robert Kirkman
PENCILLER: Charlie Adlard
PUBLISHER: Image Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: May 3, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

There’s always been a direct correlation between the quality of a Walking Dead story, and how real and relatable things feel. That’s what’s made this story different from typical zombie lore. We’ve had so much time with these characters, and seen them to do much more than run from zombies. The world they live in is obviously a fantasy. But we’ve seen them grow and change like real people.

That’s what makes issue #167 so impactful. To a certain extent, it feels like a real person has died. Furthering that point, it’s handled in a very raw and emotional fashion. This is unquestionably one of the best issues of the entire series. Maybe the best.

Andrea has been bitten. After having been with her for so long, Rick must once again say goodbye to a woman he loves. But can he bring himself to continue on without her? And how does her death impact Carl, Negan, Michonne, and the rest of the survivors? Especially now that the Saviors may once again be a threat…

I’ve never been any good at saying goodbye. Maybe that’s why this issue resonated so much with me. This is essentially one big goodbye to Andrea. They even forego the letters column this month, replacing it with a message from Kirkman about the character. It all may seem a little self-important. But The Walking Dead has such a passionate and devoted fanbase, that you can actually see the some of the reasoning behind it. Andrea has been part of the series since it’s second issue. She was one of the “originals.” So her death means that much more.

My favorite page in the issue is on a 16-panel grid, where we see major and minor characters alike pay their respects to Andrea. Each gets one panel. There’s a striking honesty on this page. You have some of the obvious, “we love you” and “if it hadn’t been for you” type stuff. But Heath, for instance, says: “We never talked much. I’m sorry for that. I’m not the best at making friends.” Carl’s love interest Lydia says, “I don’t think you like me, but…I’m not going to hurt Carl.” Then you have Negan, who puts his own little spin on a goodbye. And that’s not even taking the artistic quality of the page into account. It’s fantastic work by Kirkman, Adlard, and the entire team.

Kirkman uses Andrea’s death to talk about the human condition a little more directly. When talking with Carl about his relationship with Lydia, she tells him “People like to think there are people out there they’re meant to be with” but that “Anybody can love anyone if they want to.” He’s essentially trying to debunk the idea of soulmates, and asserting the notion that people make their own destinies. One might read that as Kirkman getting on his high horse. I suppose that’s true. But it’s his book, after all…

As one might imagine, much of the issue is spent with Rick and Andrea alone. He sits at her bedside in her final hours. It’s good stuff, but we get some odd repetition. Rick breaks down, talking about how he can’t go on, can’t stay strong, etc. In her last big monologue, Andrea tells Rick that he must continue, and how he’s made everyone else stronger. Then a few pages later, after Andrea has passed, Rick doubts himself out loud again. As he did just a few pages earlier, he says he “can’t do this anymore,” and that he just killed a woman a matter of hours ago. (It happened last issue. Long story.) The only real difference is that Andrea is dead in the latter scene. It’s a big difference of course, and Andrea’s monologue has all the appropriate power. I just wonder why the choice was made to have Rick repeat himself. In between those stretches of dialogue, we get four whole pages of silence, simply letting the art show us the final moments of Andrea’s life. I wonder if it would have been better to maintain that silence.

Charlie Adlard, inker Stefano Gaudiano, and gray tone artist Cliff Rathburn work their usual magic here. I almost hate to use that term, as it seemingly lessens the gravity of what they’ve been able to accomplish on this series. Adlard and Rathburn have been with the series since its early days. So it’s always gratifying to see them there when a long-standing character leaves the book.

There are a good amount of splash pages and two-page spreads in this issue. There’s a two-page shot of Rick at Andrea’s bedside that’s tremendous. There are a lot of deep black in the room, yet we get the sunlight coming in through the window. This is also a great showcase for Adlard’s character “acting” skills. He’s become absolutely amazing with the subtleties in human facial expression. Case in point, the splash page of Rick’s face after Andrea is gone once and for all, and the impact of what’s just happened finally sets in. Then you have the panel below, where Andrea has died, and Rick has to prevent her from turning…

Despite Andrea’s death, this issue is really about two things: Perseverance and hope. This is the most painful and most personal blow Rick has faced since he lost his wife and baby. But the issue ends not with more grief, but with an eye toward the future. The Walking Dead isn’t necessarily a series that’s known for it’s optimism. So often this world prompts its character to act on their darkest and most disturbed impulses. Going the other way was smart, given the emotional impact of what we’re seeing. It’s part of what makes this a landmark issue for the series.

One of the things Kirkman does very well with The Walking Dead is create a certain legacy for characters that have died. The deaths of characters like Glenn, Lori, and Herschel are still being felt in the series today. So as we move forward, the question becomes: What will Andrea’s legacy be?

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