Review – Black Stars Above #3 (Vault Comics)

Publisher: Vault Comics
Writer: Lonnie Nadler
Artwork: Jenna Cha
Colours: Brad Simpson
Lettering: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Release Date: 29th January 2020

A cabin in the woods, a light in the hostile, freezing, deadly night; warmth, comfort, sanctuary…

Eulalie enters the trapper’s cabin hoping for a respite from the fatigue and cold and fear. Upon meeting her fellow refugees from the winter storms, however, Eulalie begins to suspect that she may have been safer in the wilderness. The chance(?) discovery of a journal gripped in frozen fingers sticking out from the snow expands on the disturbing events that have been plaguing Eulalie, and the cryptic warnings of her eldritch companion may be leading her towards tragedy.

Where I’ve previously been enthusiastic about this series, this is the point where I feel the need to gush a little. It’s also worth pointing out that there has been a massive increase in the number of new horror titles being released recently, and an awful lot of them have Lovecraftian themes. In this sea of titles, some of which are truly exceptional, standing out from the pack takes something truly spectacular. And Black Stars Above has, over the last three issues, become something truly spectacular.

There are moments in this issue that are evocative of Alan Moore’s masterpiece PROVIDENCE, and when it comes to Lovecraftian fiction I cannot think of higher praise than that. Lonnie Nadler has understood something that is missed by a lot of writers.  Namely, that “Lovecraftian” is not code for ‘insert tentacles in as many plot points as possible’. As I’ve said in previous reviews of this series, there are a lot of writers that have helped create what we now refer to as Lovecraftian – Derleth, Bierce, Chambers, Machen and Blackwood to name but a few, and those influences are more prevalent in Nadler’s writing.

For me, while “Lovecraftian” necessarily requires something otherworldly (the eponymous Cosmic Horror), all these authors employ in their narrative themes that are in many cases much more important than the prospect of an alien/aquatic monster. A creeping sense of dread, a slow spiral into madness, isolation and paranoia. Lonnie Nadler has written a story that genuinely embodies all of these themes and qualities.

A significant percentage of the last three issues has been focused on Eulalie’s isolation from her family, from humanity, and the paranoia that creeps in at the edges as a result. The cosmic horrors are, by and large, subtly introduced, this is all about building tension, dread and atmosphere. Yes, we have the eldritch creature that is Eulalie’s constant companion but it’s pitiful, dreadful mewlings are almost a whisper in your ear, a voice on the edge of perception that at times could almost lead you to believe they are just a creation of her tortured psyche. Between this build-up of tension and the uncertainty as to what is real, the moments where our protagonist is in familiar and on the face of it a place of safety conversely seem that much more sinister and dangerous.

There is a portion of this issue that is presented in the form of a commonplace book, the journal of one Arthur Tanner, a representative of the H.B. Company, and in fact, the first character we met in this series. Referring back to Alan Moore’s Providence, this is a device that he used to great effect in giving us a far greater insight into Robert Black’s thoughts and perceptions than could have been achieved in pure comic format, and I think the way Nadler uses it in this issue works perfectly in filling out a large piece of narrative, an important part of the story, that answers a lot of questions and sets the scene for what is to come.

The artistic pairing of Jenna Cha and Brad Simpson again provides some stunning and haunting artwork. The duo have the opportunity in this issue to show us something different, having the inhabitants of the trapper’s cabin to contend with and the scenes that unfold. Whilst I could talk to you all day about just how good Cha’s depictions of the wilderness and woods that Eulalie is traversing, or the depictions of the black stars, or the superbly otherworldly infant monstrosity, in this issue I really enjoyed seeing the quite terrifying depictions of the characters we meet at the beginning.

Straight away you find yourself thinking “get out of there, for the love of god get out of there!” The three people we meet are each disturbing in their own right, but for me the depiction of the child with his hand puppet would have immediately sent me running for the door. I have to say though that the “injured” surveyor just kept making me wonder what the hell is under the blanket… actually scratch that, I really don’t want to know!

An extra shout-out also has to be given to Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, who has really pulled out a;; the stops this issue, giving us a fantastic visual experience, making the large amount of text in this issue a delight to read.

As a whole, this issue has really stepped up the pace with regards to the tension and terror, and you can really feel everything starting to come to a head. If things continue the way they’re going, then the climax of this series will be nothing short of legendary.

Rating: 4.5/5.

The writer of this piece was: Mark Scott
Mark Tweets from @macoy_comicgeek ‏

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