Publisher: Vault Comics
Writer: Si Spurier
Artist: Nathan Gooden
Colours: Addison Duke
Letterer: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Release Date: 19th January 2022
In the wake of the brutal murder of The Lawyer, it seems like Nettie’s hopes of finding Caleb and uncovering the mystery surrounding his “disappearance”, are slipping further away. While investigating something unusual at Caleb’s claim, the wilderness unveils more disturbing and impossible surprises, leading Nettie and her party to seek out The Pale directly.
Full disclosure, I haven’t read the series before today, and have just binged the first three issues. An experience which leaves me asking… how in the name of all that’s holy have I not picked up this series before now? This series is brilliant, and it’s exactly the sort of thing that would normally be at the top of my pull list, so I genuinely don’t understand how it’s slipped by me until now (apologies to all involved in the creation this book).
Set during the time of the gold rush, in a frozen and unforgiving wilderness, this is a dark and savage story full of eldritch, creeping horrors and madness brought on by isolation, greed and the influence of the entities apparently lead by the shadowy half-man half-spider demon(?) known as The Pale.
Those who know me or have read my reviews over the last few years. will know that horror is where I live, particularly entries that are based in the “Lovecraftian horror” genre. As I have repeatedly said, Lovecraftian doesn’t necessarily mean Lovecraft, and there are a whole host of other authors who contributed to the genre, such as Algernon Blackwood. This is a story that fits more with his influence than that of Lovecraft himself, albeit – if you’ve been following the story so far – with a more overtly horrific storyline.
A couple of years back I was exceedingly vocal about Vault Comics’ Black Stars Above, and this falls into a similar vein in terms of tone and style, although it’s perhaps not as intensely claustrophobic as BSA was. Si Spurier is a writer who really caught my attention with his superb Hellblazer run (a title that has been one of my top five ongoing series since I picked up the first issue many, many years ago), and is rapidly becoming one of those writers whose books will just get added to my pull list whenever I hear about a new title with his name on it. Unfortunately for me, there are so many superb writers out there at the moment that this list is reaching epic proportions. However that is a problem for my bank balance and the structural integrity of my shelves to resolve between them.
I love the artwork in this series. It’s gritty, it’s almost “noir” in its execution, and the design is a cross between pulp novel and the classic black and white movies with chapter cards from days gone by (before my time, I hasten to add.) I also love the frontier setting of the story. This is a period/setting that really does lend itself well to horror, and there are so many stories that can be carved from real events, drunken accounts of settlements found empty of life, or unexplained disappearances and deaths to keep an army of writers going for decades (just take a look at films like Bone Tomahawk, or Ravenous as an example).
While there are moments where the outré aspects are very much on display, I like the fact that a lot of it remains off screen or veiled in shadows while the more human horror is made much more evident. Personally, I find human horror far more disturbing than anything supernatural or occult, and what we are capable of doing to each other is always much, much scarier than the bogeyman under the bed.
This is a series that I have somehow managed to sleep on for the first three issues – a mistake I am in the process of fixing. If you are already reading this series then I assume I’m preaching to the choir, but if like me you’ve missed out on the first couple of issues, then you really need to get on board as the tension and horror seem to be ramping up and this could be another epic horror from Vault when all’s said and done.
[PREVIEW ARTWORK – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
The writer of this piece was: Mark Scott
Mark Tweets from @macoy_comicgeek