I am a sucker for old school horror comics. It has been with me from a very young age. I just can’t shake it. Something about the art, the slow, smooth, and deadly melody these stories play that lures me in and traps me, like many of the victims of these aforementioned types of comics. Hell, I think I have read every old Fawcett Comics horror issue that they ever printed. So as I perused through the new releases for this week and saw an original Dark Horse Comics offering within this vein. Well, I simply couldn’t pass it up. The cover had me locked in as well, ushering me into those great Eerie and Creepy comic covers of yore. Yeah, I was ready to roll.
Death Head #1 starts out simply enough. We are introduced to a young couple, Niles and Justine, on a backpacking trip in Shadowcliff National Park. They apparently are looking for Death-Head Hawkmoths, of which this park has the largest population (who knew?). Now why in the hell would these two decide to go off the civilization track to get away from everything desiring to view one of God’s creepiest creations is beyond me. But at least they do discuss this fact within the early pages. Eventually, the couple stumble upon a village that looks like it was pulled right out of puritan times that is not on their map. Think of Salem, Massachusetts, fresh with a hangman’s area. The two decide that this must be a reenactment village (ok, sure, why not?). They explore and…and…and…Well, I will just say that they definitely find some Death-Head Hawkmoths, as well as some other rather interesting finds. Things get a little bit hot out there. Someone or something may have also found them too. We shall see?
The Issue shifts from this story to two others. One that features rebellious Catholic school girls of which one has a secret (and a funky drug trip). And another story featuring bullies throwing a kid down a sewer drain that has a boogeyman past known as The Man in the Sewer. The kid survives, but encounters someone in the sewer who shouldn’t be there.
So goes Death Head #1. How these three stories tie in with the others are anybody’s guess. Our cover figure mystery man in the Death Head mask does appear in the sewer and couple tales. But there seems to be nothing of him with the Catholic girls. Who knows? And it is with this confusion that makes this who issue out of whack.
Well that and the fact that our couple, Niles and Justine, seem way too nonchalant in addressing the many things that they encounter. It is as almost like they accept their fate with some sort of childlike “gee whiz” dismissal. I truly think that most people would be freaked out at the least, and stone cold frozen with fear at the worst. But they are good. They are all good. Looking death right in the eye? Cool (Sheesh).
I wanted to like this issue. The art by Joanna Estep is really good and out of her wheelhouse as she has done quite a few more kiddie oriented renderings in her past. With this title, Estep shows some seriously good (and scary) diversity that almost made me give this issue a higher mark than I originally had prepared. Her work is real chilling and foreboding at one step, while being hell hot and intense at another. The art makes your skin crawl, yet throwing you out of whack too. But in a good way. The drug trip art is as beautiful as the scenes in the woods are disturbing. Estep has skills. I desire to see more from her and hope things work their way out in future issues of this title.
But with the writing, credited to Zack Keller and Nick Keller, I feel left out and empty. The stories have no real connection at this time, even though I recognize that they are trying to portray the Death Head mask wearing man as something more supernatural, spanning different spaces and times. I get that. But the connections are loose and not very well portrayed. The whole Niles and Justine part just doesn’t make any sense as I can’t think of people who would act as they do regarding what they encounter or why they were even out there in the first place. It is just not believable. Now the Catholic girl story does feel more real as does the kid with the bullies. But those two tales are really side tales with the primary focus being on Niles and Justine. Perhaps this will change. But as for now, we are where we are.
Overall, I was not pleased with the writing of this issue. The art almost saved it, but not quite. Of course though, I am still a sucker for old school style horror comics and will continue to give Zack and Nick Keller a chance to right the ship and pull some of these tidbits of creepiness out forming a cohesive and truly scary story.