“The Strange Case of Billy McTaggart”
Writer: John Lees
Artist: Iain Laurie
Colours: Megan Wilson
Letters: Colin Bell
Writer/Letters: Tyler James
Artist: Alex Cormack
Colours: Jules Rivera
Cover Artist: Ryan Stegman
Release Date: May 2nd, 2015 (Free Comic Book Day!)
Ahead of its inclusion in this year’s Free Comic Book Day, I’ve been fortunate enough to be given a sneaky peek at ComixTribe’s And Then Emily Was Gone #0. With the monumental commercial and critical success of the series, it was pretty much a no-brainer that Lees and Laurie’s gloriously disturbing creation would be chosen as the standard bearer for ComixTribe’s march into FCBD, but as an added bonus this issue actually contains two separate stories, plus an absolutely stunning cover from the one and only Ryan Stegman. Double the value double the fun, right?
The first story serves as a prequel of sorts for the events of And Then Emily Was Gone, introducing us to troubled youngster Billy McTaggart, a Merksay youth who is being plagued by a strange, straw-haired figure watching him through his bedroom window at night – a figure who clearly needs no introduction, . As with the main series, Lees and Laurie combine here to weave a truly unnerving tale as Billy’s plight gradually escalates over the course of several nights, with the former’s firm grasp of pacing and subtle horror nuance blending perfectly with the latter’s distinctive, disturbingly surreal imagery.
It has been intriguing from an observer’s point of view to watch the abilities of these two creators grow over the years, and the confidence with which they tackle this brief, skin-crawling story is truly impressive. Not a single panel is wasted as Lees’ measured dialogue meshes beautifully with Laurie’s gloriously grotesque artwork, and while the limited page count ultimately left me feeling a little disappointed as I found myself craving more, as a brief self-contained story that feeds into the existing mythology, this should be more than enough to give fans of the series enough of a ‘fix’ to keep their withdrawals at bay… for a while, at least.
The second story (re)introduces us to Oxymoron, another wonderfully depraved ComixTribe creation, this time from the mind and pen of Tyler James and Alex Cormack respectively. However, rather than tying into the upcoming The Loveliest Nightmare series as I thought it might, this story actually serves as a prequel for another impending series from the titular psychopath, this one with a distinctly time-travelling slant.
While both stories here are chilling and unsettling in their own ways, the difference in approach between Lees/Laurie and James/Cormack couldn’t be more different. While Emily is all about the creeping sense of dread and shockingly surreal visual outbursts, Oxymoron is far more in-your-face, with the depraved masked villain very much front and centre throughout, delivering his delicious threats and monologues with a grinning sense of glee.
Cormack’s artwork continues to impress me every time I see it, with his wonderfully expressive style filled with detail and energy. James cooks up a wonderful scenario too, offering up all manner of exciting opportunities for this upcoming series while continuing with his good-natured lampooning of the inherent ridiculousness of the superhero genre, using Oxymoron as a sharpened knife to slash through all the pretence and cliché.
Overall, this release firmly cements ComixTribe as one of today’s up and coming publishers, with a rapidly expanding catalogue of iconic characters and an impressive stable of supremely talented creators. While the vast majority of FCBD attendees are likely to gravitate towards the Marvel and DC offerings, those who dig a little deeper and take a chance on the murky, depraved worlds of Bonnie Shaw and Oxymoron are in for an absolute treat.
Well, I say treat…