Publisher: IDW Publishing (Black Crown Imprint)
Writer: Christopher Sebela
Artist: Shawn McManus
Colouring: Lee Loughridge
Lettering: Aditya Bidikar
Release Date: 29th August 2018
Ten-year-old Dylan Sandifer and her family are on a road trip. However, it’s not your typical family summer vacation. Instead, they’re hunting the Reality Adjusters, the Slipper Men; monsters on the fringe of our world taking over our bodies and slowly remaking reality in their image… or are they? Dylan is beginning to realise that something much more dreadful is happening, something she and her twin sister Ollie have started, and she doesn’t know whether she can stop it or even if she wants to.
I’m not sure whether Christopher Sebela (Crowded, Cold War, Heartthrob) has deliberately written this with the intention of being an homage to other writers & artists but there are more than a few nods here and they’re pretty on the nose.
Firstly, there’s more than a hint of Neil Gaiman in this story and the way it’s presented, from the Coraline-esque Variant cover to the road trip across America and talk of Old Gods sleeping, with what’s left of their energy being stored to bring forth New Gods. The Vortex built by John Lister in possibly 1937 with its magical carousel couldn’t be more obviously a nod to “The House on The Rock” if Mr. Nancy had been the tour guide.
Likewise, Tyler the harried and troubled older brother being dragged unwillingly into supernatural shenanigans is very reminiscent of the character of the same name in Joe Hill’s Locke & Key, and I couldn’t help but think of both Joe and his father Stephen King with regards to the whole family dynamic, especially the relationship between the twins and their possibly supernatural bond. Also, the overriding impression I got throughout though was that this could have been written by Cullen Bunn, and the tone and structure could have come straight from one of those “a masterclass with” events.
So, smatterings of Hill & King, heady notes of Gaiman and an underlying note of Bunn, to do my best impersonation of a wine critic. What could go wrong? Well objectively this is a great story, it’s got an awful lot of things right, the narrative flows really well, there’s mystery, horror, intrigue, uncertainty, spooky twins, murder and mayhem both mundane and supernatural.
The artwork by Shawn McManus (DC’s Fables series, Sandman: Fables & Reflections, Saga of The Swamp Thing #28 & #30) is first-rate as always, but I think it’s hampered a little by certain aspects of the story, and here’s where I start to have some more significant problems. The nods in the story are too many and too distracting whether or not they’re intentional or not. McManus is a very accomplished and celebrated artist in his own right, but I think these nods influence his style throughout, and not for the better.
To my eye, you can clearly tell when he’s drawing the parts that nod to Gaiman, the style changes subtly to almost being Tyler Crook when he’s writing the nods to Cullen Bunn and there’s a Rodriguez feel to the Hill/King references. That said, there are some truly glorious panels where McManus is simply doing McManus, but they’re crowded out by homage and that is a tragedy.
As I said above, I think, based on this first issue, that objectively Sebela has written a really interesting story, to the point where I’ll definitely be looking out for the rest of the series. But for me, I do think it would be greatly improved if this felt like more of his own story instead of repeatedly using homage as a prop.
The writer of this piece was: Mark Scott
Mark Tweets from @macoy_comicgeek