Publisher: Vertigo Comics
Writer: Shawn Aldridge
Artist: Scott Godlewski
Release Date: 13th July, 2016
Not only has the bar been raised so incredibly high in the world of comicbook horror over the last few years, but the sheer volume of top-quality titles hitting the shelves on any given week can make it a daunting task for new titles to stand out from the crowd. Thankfully, Vertigo’s The Dark & Bloody – the brainchild of writer Shawn Aldridge and Scott Godlewski – is one of the titles that have managed to push their way right to the the front of the queue, grabbing you by the lapels and forcing you to sit up and take notice.
And now we reach the final chapter of the story as Iris embarks on a last ditch attempt to save his family from the physical manifestation of vengeance that has come to repay him for his crimes committed as a soldier in Iraq. The Al Basti has his son Shiloh, and – as we found out at the conclusion of the previous issue – Iris is willing to do pretty much anything to appease the monstrosity and secure his family’s safety.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about The Dark & Bloody, looking back at the series as a whole, is the different layers of storytelling that are on display here. On the surface we have a chilling rural horror featuring a terrifying monstrosity laying siege to a seemingly innocent family, but when you dig a little deeper there are several far subtler plot threads at play here; the suffocating, intoxicating nature of vengeance, for instance; or the fact that every action – or inaction – has a consequence that must be atoned for somewhere down the line. It’s certainly far more cerebral than it may appear upon first glance, and such is the beauty of Shawn Aldridge’s storytelling that as soon as I finished this issue I instantly wanted to read back through the whole six-part series again to get a better feel for everything I had just witnessed.
It also doesn’t hurt that the book looks absolutely fantastic, with Scott Godlewski’s measured pencils and jaw-dropping character design drawing you into the narrative and making you feel every moment of fear, anger and elation along the way. Oh, and once again, it’s worth mentioning just how utterly beautiful – in a twisted, depraved, nightmare-inducing way – the Al Basti itself truly is. Perhaps more than any issue so far, colourist Patricia Mulvihill really stamps her mark on the conclusion of the story too, bathing the horror and violence in cool hues of blue and haunting oranges and reds. She works seamlessly with Godlweski here, mirroring the tension as the reds gradually give way to yellows as the dawn breaks and the dust eventually settles.
The denouement is powerful and shocking without straying into melodrama or overwrought exposition, and the creators give a little wink to the reader on the final page, leaving the door open like all great horror stories do. All the way through the series, The Dark & Bloody has deftly tiptoed the line between unsettling horror and captivating characterisation, and this final issue once again contains both in equal measure. There are no easy answers to be had here, no clean and tidy solutions, and – for my money – the story is all the better for it. Beautifully scripted, genuinely unsettling and surprisingly cerebral, The Dark & Bloody is a horror story that more than holds up the fine traditions of this iconic publisher.
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