Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Dan Watters
Artist: Caspar Wijngaard
Letterer: Aditya Bidikar
Release Date: 13th January 2021
During the summer of 1994, high school punk band The Home Sick Pilots are looking for ways to upstage their rivals the Nuclear Bastards. When Ami suggests The James House, the local haunted mansion, as a venue, their next gig could end up being killer in more ways than one.
There’s going to be about 600 words of review to follow, but you could save yourself some time and effort and just go out and buy this series right now. I mean, by all means please take the time to read my vaguely coherent and rambling thoughts (that is, after all why I’m here), but quite frankly, my ego will stand it if you just flip over to the website of whatever is your comic book supplier of choice and purchase the first two issues of Home Sick Pilots right now.
I would also like to mention that technically this should be a review of issue two, but as I’ve only just read issue one, I’m going to assume you’re starting from the same position as me.
This series is billed as Power Rangers meets The Shining. I’m not 100% certain that I’d agree with that at this point, but as we’re only two issues in, I assume that this will become more apparent in the coming issues. There is certainly a kind of Lost Boys meets The Breakfast Club kind of feel to the first issue of the story, albeit a darker and bloodier version, whereas the second issue is a little schizophrenic. There are some decently dark and gritty horror moments, combined with some neon bright moments that are pure Manga. For me, this series sits comfortably in the YA market, but it’s definitely heading towards the “mature reader” category in places.
Haunted House tales are centuries old and span every culture across the globe. There isn’t a country I can think of that doesn’t have at least one folk tale or urban legend of a malevolent spirit residing in a property shrouded in tragedy. The archetypal Haunted House is the American Victorian style, and given the apparent number of run down, creepy as hell, Victorian houses there appear to be in America, it’s almost like somebody sat up one morning and decided to deliberately design houses that in 80-100 years would naturally become receptacles for ghosts, Demons, and other malevolent spirits. It’s like the concept of building an entire nation on an ancient Indian burial ground wasn’t enough, they had to go and provide purpose-built dwellings for the non-indigenous entities as well.
Our main protagonist (so far) is Ami; orphan, reject, Ramones fan (there’s always one). Ami is tough and smart but has that reckless, self-destructive, lack of self-worth that sadly seems to pervade a lot of teens that are “in the system”. However, once Ami enters the house, and begins her journey to make the house whole again, she becomes a completely different character, somewhere between Cassie Hack and Saga’s spectral babysitter Izabel, displaying a far more confident and self-assured persona.
While the rest of the Home Sick Pilots seem to have been sidelined a little in this second issue, I’m really looking forward to finding out more about them and what they can bring to the party going forward. I also think that there is a very clever device in using the almost but not quite completely black pages as a platform for Ami to provide a reflective commentary, looking back on the story we’re seeing unfold on the rest of the pages.
I really like the concept that a haunted house is drafting a team of disaffected teens to help return the missing spirits that inhabit it to make it whole again. The first ghost we’re introduced to is a great piece of character design, and I like the fact that its depiction when possessing someone is a completely different being to the creature we ultimately see inhabiting the James House. I won’t lie, I’m way more interested in seeing the dark, shadowy, and malevolent side of these ghosts than the more Manga-like monsters such as the one we see in issue two, but I don’t find the contrast jarring, and if it introduces someone to a facet of the genre that they wouldn’t normally have read then I’m all for it.
The depictions of the house itself are particularly good, the opening of the first issue shows us the house raising from its foundations to stalk the world like Baba Yaga’s chicken legged house, or what I thought was a superb depiction of a haunted house in the 2006 movie Monster House. The house’s reaction to intruders is also pretty spectacular, and brutally swift. I think that between what the house is capable of and the previously mentioned monster designs, we’re in for some spectacular horror over the course of this series. I also have a very dark imagination at times, and I can’t help but wonder if, given the revelations about how honest the house is being with Ami, whether its intent is not just to trap new souls within its walls to bolster its menagerie as much as it is to seek help in reclaiming its lost souls.
There is a lot going on in this series, and a lot to like. As I said earlier, I think that this is aimed at the YA audience, but it’s a bit close to the knuckle in places for the younger end of the market and I may review this assessment when I’ve read more issues. If you’re a YA horror fan then this is an absolute must read. However, if you’re a “mature” reader then I still think this should still be considered a must read, as there are some darker aspects that are well worth your attention.
[PREVIEW ARTWORK – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
The writer of this piece was: Mark Scott
Mark Tweets from @macoy_comicgeek