Publisher: Aftershock Comics
Writer: Joe Pruett
Artwork: Szymon Kudranski, Guy Major
Release Date: 20th April, 2016
If you’ve been following the Big Comic Page at all over the last year or so, you’ll know that we’ve been singing the praises of Aftershock Comics’ output for quite some time now. From tense thrillers to gripping military dramas to light-hearted superhero fare, Aftershock has been knocking the hits out of the park at a truly dizzying rate. However, the one thing they didn’t seem to have in their their arsenal was a really good horror story. Well, I’m happy to report that this particularly void has been well and truly filled by Joe Pruett and Szymon Kudranski’s BLACK EYED KIDS, which goes on sale everywhere this week.
I’m not going to go into much in the way of storyline details, because this first issue is one that deserves to be experienced first-hand rather than regurgitated. However, I will say that Joe Pruett has crafted a story which blends some of the most effective aspects of some of the best horror stories of all time into a truly shocking mix. Adopting a fairly grounded approach for the most part, Pruett overcomes the lack of ‘jump scares’ in the comic horror medium by ramping the tension all the way up as we are forced to watch a regular suburban family have their lives torn asunder by the eponymous kids.
Prior to picking this book up, I had a vague feeling that I’d heard the name Szymon Kudranski before, but couldn’t quite place it. However, the moment I turned the first page, it all came flooding back, as Kudranski’s heavily-inked, heavily-shadowed style works perfectly to establish the tone of this book, just as it did with the twisted, tormented tale of Oswald Cobblepot in DC’s PENGUIN: PAIN AND PREJUDICE. The creeping menace of the kids themselves is handled beautifully, with their faces masked in shadow for the most part until the time comes for the shocking reveal (a reveal which is admittedly somewhat telegraphed by both the cover and title of the comic).
The truly disturbing sequence near the end of this issue is also handled deftly, without any need to rely on shocks or over-the-top gore, with both Pruett and Kudranski letting the reader’s imagination fill in the blanks to accompany those truly horrifying sound effects. Colorist Guy Major also adds depth and tension to Kudranski’s work with a muted palette filled with dark, muddy shades and drawn-out shadows.
For me, one of the most compelling aspects of any horror story is the fear of the unknown, and in that respect, Joe Pruett should be applauded for keeping things beautifully simple over the course of this first issue. We don’t know why these kids are acting the way they are, nor do we know what their agenda or ‘endgame’ is. All we know is that they’re here, they appear to be recruiting, and that they’re utterly, utterly terrifying.
In horror stories, all too often the writer can fall into the trap of feeling the need to over-explain things right from the get-go, providing context and backstory where, in reality, none is needed. And while I’m sure Pruett will dig a little deeper into the questions behind the series as it progresses, but for now, the not knowing is perhaps this book’s strongest suit.
A chilling, unsettling read from start to finish, BLACK EYED KIDS provides one of the most gripping opening issues to a horror story that I’ve read in years. Quite how the series will hold up once we start to learn a little more about the titular kids remains to be seen, but for now, Pruett and Kudranski’s creation stands as a true masterpiece of tension and atmosphere, and a book that should creep its way right to the top of any self-respecting horror fan’s “must buy” list.