Publisher: DC (Hill House Comics Imprint)
Writer: Laura Marks
Artwork: Kelley Jones
Colours: Michelle Madsen
Letters: Rob Leigh
Release Date: 8th January 2020
19th Century New York. A time of Victorian splendour, gaslit foggy streets, occultists in their parlours fleecing the vulnerable, the gullible and, in some cases, the desperate. Daphne Byrne is a fourteen-year-old girl, mourning the sudden loss of her father. When her grief-stricken mother turns to one such charlatan for comfort, Daphne struggles to separate dream from reality and finds herself drawn into a dark, sinister world by the enigmatic Brother whose intentions are anything but good.
First things first, the artwork for this series is produced by none other than the legendary KELLEY JONES! I mean, do I really need to write anything else? That alone should have you picking up this book. Kelley Jones, artist on The Sandman, Batman: Red Rain, Deadman, Swamp Thing, Batman: Kings of Fear… yes, that Kelley Jones! I’m not sure what kind of sorcery Joe Hill is invoking to get the talent for his Hill House Comics DC imprint, but by god it’s working.
I can’t think of a time in the last 35(ish) years, when I haven’t had comics that Kelley Jones has illustrated on my shelves, and he has been responsible for some of my favourite books of all time. As such, reading Daphne Byrne is like being guided through the story by an old friend, one you trust to guide you through dark foggy alleyways and sunken, eldritch crypts. Now don’t get me wrong, Jones is not a comforting artist; indeed, he is renowned for his horrific artwork. His depiction of an emaciated and skeletal Boston Brand, or the haunting devolution of Bruce Wayne, or the suicidal decline of Element Girl, are all unnerving and unsettling works that reimagined well known characters as their basest, most twisted forms. This is where Jones excels, taking the normal and the expected and twisting it, bringing the darkness out and challenging our expectations.
This is why it’s so exciting to see Jones putting ink to paper again, bringing life Laura Marks’ wonderful Victorian Gothic Horror story. Now I’m not going to pretend I know Laura Marks’ other work well – I know she has written for some pretty successful TV Series’ including The Expanse, The Exorcist, and The Good Fight, but as far as I’m aware, this is the first comic series she’s been involved with. As debut comics go, this is pretty impressive. Unlike some of the other titles in the Hill House Comics stable, this is a very slow burn for a first issue. Obviously picking up a title from an imprint that is dedicated to horror, you know where things are likely to go, but this is a story that wants to build things up slowly, and almost sleepwalking you into the horror, so that by the time you realise what’s going on it’s far, far too late to avoid it.
Throughout the issue, there are signs that things are not normal, that there is a shadow following the titular character, that whatever smoke and mirrors others might present to her ailing mother, the nails scraping down Daphne’s nerves and the movement in the corner of her eye are all going to be much more real and much more dangerous. Marks does a great job of building this tension and dread, portraying Daphne as a child desperately struggling with an absent, distant and erratic mother, and the implication that this is the door that allows whatever is lurking in the shadows to latch onto her.
Where the other titles I’ve read from Hill House seem perfectly suited to a serialised publication, I think that this one is different. Am I still going to buy each issue as it’s released? Absolutely, as I think this is going to be an excellent series. I do however think that this feels like it should be delivered as an OGN rather than a monthly publication. I think for me, this is because of the pacing. Again, this is not a criticism of the narrative in any way, but I think that because each issue will be a month apart, the reader could lose a lot the tension by reading it piecemeal.
Another superbly delivered horror title from Hill House Comics, so get out there and get your Gothic Horror on!
[PREVIEW ARTWORK – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
The writer of this piece was: Mark Scott
Mark Tweets from @macoy_comicgeek