Publisher: AfterShock Comics
Writer: Zac Thompson
Artwork: Arjuna Susini
Colours: Dee Cunniffe
Lettering: Marshall Dillon
Release Date: 24th April 2019
The latest offering from AfterShock’s new line of original graphic novel releases, THE REPLACER introduces us to a fairly ordinary family whose lives are ripped apart when the father, thirty-seven year-old Gary, suffers a massive stroke. Framed from the perspective of his son Marcus, we see the youngster struggling to cope with the reality of the situation – a situation which isn’t helped by the fact that Marcus can occasionally see a terrifying demon hovering over and manipulating his mostly paralysed dad, making him wonder if the man he once loved has been replaced by something far more sinister.
It’s a story grounded in realism which gradually draws the reader in over the course of its sixty-four pages as the relationship between Marcus and his rapidly father deteriorates. The fact that writer Zac Thompson is drawing on his own childhood experiences makes it all the more affecting, and he does an understandably great job of ensuring the emotions and reactions all feel hauntingly real here
Arjuna Susini’s impressively realistic artwork similarly helps to underscore the emotional heft of the story, and the way he brings the more traumatic moments to life – including the harrowing moment when Marcus witnessing his father’s stroke – ensures that this one is going to stick in the mind of the reader long after they’ve put the book down. The design of the “demon” itself also goes a long way towards giving this book its deeply uncomfortable edge, looking as it does like a twisted, grotesque and barely humanoid collection of arms, legs and eyes.
Dee Cunniffe also does a huge amount of the heavy lifting with his typically note-perfect colour work, keeping things suitably grounded and washed-out for the most part while still managing to emphasise the key beats of the story – including the aforementioned stroke – with sharp changes in colour palette. There’s also a scene I particularly loved where Marcus stays up to keep watch on his sleeping father for signs of demonic possession where Cunniffe’s shifting palette perfectly portrays the gradual passage of time.
It’s probably worth mentioning that about midway through this graphic novel it becomes fairly obvious that the overall effect of the story is going to rely heavily on its resolution. Is Marcus’ father really in the clutches of a malevolent, soul-eating demon, or is it all in his traumatised son’s imagination? As such, it requires a delicate balancing act from the creative team. Too fantastical and we lose the emotional impact, too matter-of-fact and it becomes a deeply upsetting read. Thankfully then, and without verging into the realm of spoilers, the creators manage to land right in the sweet spot, delivering a powerful and, dare I say, unexpected dénouement which frames the preceding story in a whole new light.
Managing to be both an unsettling horror story and an insightful look at the impact disability can have on the family of the disabled person, THE REPLACER is an utterly essential read. AfterShock Comics are absolutely knocking it out of the park with their original graphic novel offerings so far, and this deeply affecting and genuinely uncomfortable horror tale may be the best so far.