Publisher: Black Mask Studios
Writer: Mark L. Miller.
Artwork: James Michael Whynot
Colours: Dee Cunniffe
Lettering: Jim Campbell
Release Date: 13th December 2017
Gravetrancers is the latest offering from Black Mask Studios, and comes from the mind of Mark L. Miller, who impressed and disturbed us a few years ago with twisted circus horror series Pirouette. It has some interesting ideas about the intoxicating and hallucinogenic properties of A highly addictive drug made from human remains, but only touches on them briefly during the opening pages of this first issue.
The story is framed from the perspective of Anthony, a young man who is trying to connect with his deceased father by visiting his just-discovered grave, and his sister Maribel, a recovering addict who just wants to do right by her younger brother. We briefly get to know them during a car journey to the aforementioned grave, and the strength of Miller’s characterisation shines through with their relatable brother-sister dynamic and understated likeability.
This first issue is very much a typical horror story for the most part, with our two engaging protagonists walking into a situation which is likely to have most readers screaming “Get the hell out of there! Just leave! Now!!” as soon as they lay eyes on the people who own the cemetery. Seriously folks, red flags all over the place. Things rapidly deteriorate, as you’d likely expect, culminating in the issue being brought full circle as the idea introduced in the opening pages is brutally inflicted on our two siblings, with legitimately terrifying results.
Artist James Whynot does a fantastic job of keeping us on edge throughout the course of this first issue, with some oddly unsettling character designs and a great sense of cinematic framing during the more dramatic moments of the story (the siblings arriving at the cemetery, for instance). As I mentioned above, things get more than a little weird in the final pages of the issue, giving Whynot ample opportunity to really cut loose in a skin-crawling, hallucinogenic haze of horror. This sequence also lets let colourist extraordinaire Dee Cunniffe do his thing, daubing the pages in vivid, neon colours as the intoxication rapidly overcomes Maribel.
Ultimately, while the real meat of the story is only being hinted at for the time being, this first issue does a great job of establishing the unsettling tone of the series. It introduces us to our protagonists, building up a little emotional investment before launching them headlong into a genuinely horrifying situation. And, in spite of some familiar tropes, Gravetrancers proves to be one hell of a weird, disturbing and genuinely uncomfortable trip, and I honestly can’t wait to see where Miller, Whynot and Cunniffe take this story as it unfolds.