Publisher: AfterShock Comics
Writer: Peter Milligan
Artist: Piotr Kowalski
Colours: Brad Simpson
Letters: Simon Bowland
Release Date: 18th August 2021
I’ve made it clear in the past that I’m a big fan of what AfterShock have been gunning for with these one-shots (or “one-Shocks”), encouraging us to continue to read dangerously. When the opportunity to check out yet another, this time focusing on a “19th c. gothic horror tale of exorcism, demonic worship and epilepsy”, you could be sure I was going to be keen. All the better then that this managed to skirt around some all-too-common tropes and deliver, for me at least, a fresh but satisfyingly creepy read.
So, what kind of story are we dealing with? The cover blurb does a very good job of summing things up without giving away too much insight. Sure, we’ve got a boy (or maybe more accurate to say young man) Aubrey who, following the onset of seizures, is whisked away from his school and effectively locked away in a remote country estate. This is not a stay for respite and kindly healing, instead it becomes a tortuous existence at the hands of his father and his father’s groundskeeper. Aubrey’s father, a well to do Anglican vicar, sees his son’s affliction as both a source of shame and, contrary to the onward march of medical science, a result of devilry and sin.
With failing health and questions over whether sound of mind, Aubrey seeks refuge in the woods surrounding the estate. There he meets something that could become a friend and savour. The Secret Garden this very much is not…
On the whole, I was very taken with this OGN. The story is well paced and rather than fall into the trap of being a staid possession story, the lines here are blurred in such a way as to leave some leeway in the interpretation of the goings on. The appearance of the God of Tremors and their influence on Aubrey is subtle, and whilst fantastical happenings appear to manifest, the truth of the matter is never laid out or made clear.
The setting too, aids in providing something familiar but alien. We’ve seen so much Victorian England on our screens and in comics but the secrecy behind estate walls is far from prying eyes. It could just be me, but I did find there were points here and there were it seemed like we were almost forced to remember where and when this was set; lines not quite out of place but delivered with emphasis which I found a little jarring.
The artwork here also complements the tale wonderfully. There’s a certain old timey vibe which only manages to fuel our connection to the story. Aided by Bowland’s letters, what starts as an almost dispassionate narrative view quickly draws you into each panel. Whilst engaging, there’s always a sense that to some degree one’s distance is being maintained. This, coupled with the narration builds the feelings of helplessness we feel for Aubrey’s plight. Its not all sepia-toned boarding schools and Victoriana though. The stone effigy of the God of Tremors itself and the panels of fire and brimstone as the father delivers judgement provide great contrast without breaking the overall mood of the book.
This story can be taken at face value and in of itself it’ll deliver a decent dose of short story horror. Allow yourself to question and scrape at the corners here however and I think you’ll be more satisfied. It’s a good thing we left such things as religious hypocrisy, misogyny, and a generally blinkered world view back in the Victorian Age, right?
[PREVIEW ARTWORK – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
The writer of this piece was: Adam Brown
Adam Tweets from @brother_rooster