Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer, Lettering: Neil Kleid
Artwork: Andrea Mutti
Release Date: 16th November 2022
“New York changed that night. And there were more important things at stake than the fate of a runaway train. But tell that to the survivors.”
This week, Dark Horse Comics are collecting all five issues of the ComiXology Originals digital series ‘The Panic’ in print for the first time. I picked up the first issue on ComiXology back when it was first released, and thoroughly enjoyed what I read, but for one reason or another (i.e. too many comics, not enough time) I wasn’t able to follow the story in subsequent months. Thankfully, Dark Horse continue to bring these fantastic creator-owned digital comics to the direct market, and hopefully this will help get even more eyeballs onto this truly gripping disaster series.
Writer Neil Kleid and artist Andrea Mutti do a fantastic job of conveying the feeling of claustrophobic tension as a a group of ten diverse strangers find themselves trapped beneath the Hudson River when their train derails. Tempers flare and different personalities, political ideologies and moral outlooks are forced to coexist in a thrilling battle for survival as they try to escape the tunnel to reach an outside world that may not be the same one they left behind.
One thing I particularly liked about this story is the fact that it isn’t at all preoccupied with what’s going on in the rest of the world. The events, whatever they may be, that are causing such widespread disruption to New York – including the train crash itself – are very much secondary to the immediate situation going on in the tunnel. This is a purely character focused story, an approach which seems to play heavily into Kleid’s knack for thoroughly believable dialogue.
Sure, some of Kleid’s characters are perhaps a little one-dimensional, but watching the friction caused by them scraping up against one another in this impossibly tense situation makes them feel a lot more relatable. Thankfully, as the story unfolds, a few of them get a little more depth added to them, and several of them – train driver Tim in particular – are thoroughly intriguing creations from beginning to end.
Visually, Mutti does a stellar job of ramping up the aforementioned tension with his distinctive scratchy style. A liberal use of shadows and plenty of cramped panels really helps to hammer home the claustrophobic nature of our survivors’ predicament, and while things occasionally get a little chaotic and difficult to follow (perhaps intentionally), Mutti definitely feels like the perfect choice to bring a story like this to life.
There are a few story choices that perhaps didn’t work quite as well as others – for me, at least – including one victim of the crash, clearly in shock, resorting to cannibalism just a few hours after the incident, but for this most part the narrative here is grounded and believable, and packed with an almost tangible feeling of discomfort. There’s a definite message about books and covers mixed in here, particularly in terms of the aforementioned social and political differences, but for the most part this is a story about human beings overcoming (or in some cases failing to overcome) a truly horrific situation. Which, when you consider this series was originally based around the resilience of New Yorkers after 9/11, definitely makes sense.
Overall then, while some of the themes and dialogue are perhaps a little on the nose, there is more than enough tension and drama to keep the pages turning rapidly throughout. A thrilling pressure cooker of a disaster comic that will keep you hooked from start to finish.
[PREVIEW ARTWORK – CLICK TO ENLARGE]