Publisher: AfterShock Comics
Created by: Juan Doe
Release Date: 22nd July 2020
The “Hashtag Killer” is closing in and the survivors continue their dash to the tower in the hope of restoring communications and the chance of rescue. Betrayal piles upon betrayal and, as we spin in ever tightening circles towards the final act and the last man (or woman) standing, there are darker secrets and surprises in store for Gaia and her guests.
As we enter the final chapter in this contemporary take on the slasher genre, things are really beginning to heat up. The stakes have always been high but as the last scraps of our protagonists’ masks fall away, some shine in their final moments and some show a darkness that threatens to engulf everyone around them.
I’m going to preface this review by apologising to everyone who reads it, because I’m going to come across as a bit of a slasher snob in this review. As an unrepentant horror nerd and slasher fan going all the way back to the early days of Mario Bava and films like A Bay of Blood, I would like to think I know a good slasher story when it picks me up in my sleeping bag and beats me to death against a tree. However, this is not, I’m sad to say, one of those occasions.
Juan Doe’s world is a perfect environment for a slasher movie, and while the premise that this story is built on isn’t a new one (instead relying on some tried and trusted tropes), there are some interesting beats that, if done right, should have made this a decent entry into the genre.
As you can probably already tell, I’m still not 100% sold on this series if I’m honest. Granted, it has grown on me over the last few issues, but there are still some problems with both its delivery and pacing. What I think is the issue for me is that the slasher genre is so well known and so much part of our culture that to embark on a new story within these tropes, themes and history you really need to do it well. This is a good story and it’s a solid slasher series, but it’s not a great slasher series.
At its core, this story is asking a fairly simple question. In a world obsessed with ratings, followers, popularity and fame, just what lengths will people will go to in order to obtain it all? By and large these aren’t people that I admire or find interesting. They’re people that I don’t really understand the purpose of, and in this sense, I guess it makes them excellent slasher fodder. However, I think that’s also the start of some of my issues with this series.
If I can’t bring myself to like a single member of the cast, I can’t really be invested in whether they live or die, except maybe in a visceral ‘thrill of the kill’ kind of way. This means that your kills had better be damned inventive, which for the most part thankfully they are, but they flinch from being as good as they could be, almost as if Juan Doe couldn’t quite decide where he was pitching this. In some places it has the guts and the glory but in others it’s almost like its aimed at a younger audience, a PG13 edit if you will.
This is one thing that I have really enjoyed about this series, Juan Doe’s artwork is dark and visceral, and there are some great set pieces, but ultimately I think that the pacing just lets the artwork down slightly and some of the shocks and scares end up falling a little flat as a result.
I like that this is a series which plays heavily on the always ‘on’, need for constant validation culture that is so prevalent in society today. It’s something that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about over the last six months, especially as our need for online contact has become much more of a necessity due to the isolation we’ve all been enduring. But again, this is not a new story, and is one that I think has been done better (Black Mask’s Come Into Me is, for me, the best entry in this theme).
And as for the ending… well, there’s a component of a Slasher film that is pretty much a necessity. It’s an unwritten rule that there must be that final jump scare, or at least a reference to there being one. Jason Voorhees bursting out of the lake, the sound of Michael Myers’ breathing, Freddy Krueger’s arm bursting through the window just when Nancy thinks it’s all over. The killer always gets back up that one last time, or the villain believing they’ve won gets their comeuppance from an unexpected source. But that isn’t the way this one ends. There is no slasher pay-off, no consequences for the antagonist, no moral to be learned. This is where the whole thing falls apart for me. We’ve been sold a slasher story over the last five issues and at the end of the day this isn’t one, and even allowing for bait and switch and possibly an “aha, this isn’t going where you thought” it really ends up being devoid of a satisfying ending.
With apologies for the spoilers in this last paragraph, what we’re left with is the story of a spoiled rich girl who decides to make up reasons to kill her friends in order to boost her number of followers… and that’s it.
There’s no consequence, there’s no moral or life lesson other than at the end of the day a lot of these “influencers” (as I believe they’re now being called) are worth nothing more than your contempt. Gaia is a horrible person, a child that had everything handed to her without her having to graft for a single penny, and the whole of this series comes down to one thing; she threw a tantrum and murdered a load of people, but because she’s pretty and popular nobody cares. It’s a disappointing ending that genuinely made me think my review copy had pages missing at the end showing a shadowy figure catching up with Gaia and Damaris.
I honestly expected more from Juan Doe in terms of narrative ability and I don’t know whether it fell apart because he couldn’t decide what he wanted the story to be, or whether the lesson is that sometimes the bad guy wins, but for me it just fell flat in the denouement and left a genuine feeling of disappointment that this is what we’re left with.
[PREVIEW ARTWORK – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
The writer of this piece was: Mark Scott
Mark Tweets from @macoy_comicgeek