By Daniel Vlasaty
In the afterword at the end of this issue, M.L. Miller says that Gravetrancers was inspired by a real-life story of a cemetery dumping bodies into a pit at the back of their lot and re-selling plots over and over again. I remember this in the news some years ago. It was at Burr Oak Cemetery, I believe, which is not that far from where I live. It was a crazy, fucked up story. Listing this as inspiration for a story should tell you just what kind of book Gravetrancers is going to be. Pretty crazy and fucked up on its own, right?
The overall story – at least in this first issue – is pretty simple: a kid named Anthony doesn’t remember much about his father. The guy left when Anthony was too young. But now Anthony’s older and his dad’s dead and Anthony has found out where his old man is buried. Anthony and his sister Maribel are on their way to the cemetery so Anthony can pay his respects. Maybe get a little closure. Maribel seems to be there just for moral support of her brother. She’s older and has memories of their father before he left. And none of them are good. But she’s working through her own shit. She’s 227 days sober (as she continuously whispers to herself like a mantra). They get to the cemetery, and that’s when shit gets weird. Obviously.
There’s the family that runs the cemetery. It’s kind of clichéd, but they’re freaks. Right away you can just tell they’ve got some shit going on. And not to spoil anything or whatever – but whatever they’re into involves dead bodies and drugs.
It’s like a combination of House of 1,000 Corpses meets Saw meets drug-induced paranoia.
But is it any good? That’s the question I come here week after week to answer. Is it good? Is it bad? What works and what doesn’t? And Gravetrancers is the rare book where I have to say that I don’t know the answers to any of those questions. I don’t know if it’s good or bad. I don’t know what worked and what didn’t.
There’s a lot going on in this book. A lot. Maybe too much for a single issue. And I really, honestly don’t know how I feel about it. Usually, when I read a book I’m left with a strong opinion about it – a strong sense of like or hate. It’s not often that I’m left in some murky middle ground like this. I just don’t know. I do know that I didn’t hate the book, but I also didn’t love it either. I’m going to call this one a soft meh. The story moves quickly along, but it does so at a detriment to character development. I know these siblings have their own reasons and goals for going on this trip, but they’re not well-defined. And what we do know – at a surface level, at least – is kind of clichéd and boring. Their pasts can be interesting and formative, but it’s all so briefly addressed here that we don’t get much out of it. I’d say that it’s still possible it may come up in later issues, and that’s good, and all, but the climax/reveal/whatever came so quick in this issue that I’m not sure there’s going to be much time spent going backward.
A plus, though, for the book moving forward is the dead body/drug/mystery. I’m intrigued by this part of Gravetrancers and want to know more. This in itself is enough to get me to come back for more issues.
I think the art starts out strong but then starts to get more and more muddled as the issue goes on. It’s not that it’s bad, though. Just didn’t knock me out or anything. Most of the issue takes place in a cemetery at night, so it’s dark and moody and simplistic. The art as a whole has a pretty simplistic feel to it. And once the drugs are introduced it becomes grotesque and surreal. I do think the art is quite fitting for this story. Muddled and confusing and heavy.
Gravetrancers #1 is a decent book. There’s nothing outright wrong with it. It’s not terrible, and it’s not great. But it’s an okay first issue. There are some questions I have and hope that they will be answered in future issues. That plus the mystery surrounding the dead bodies/drugs/whatever is enough to bring me back when the next issue is released. But it will be with caution. Because I’m not completely sold on the book yet. It might be on to wait for the trade. I’ve liked a lot of what Black Mask has been putting out, but one problem I have is their somewhat sporadic release schedule. Which again might be a reason to trade-wait Gravetrancers.
Black Mask Studios