A few weeks ago I reviewed the first issue of Tabatha, an attractive book that despite its flaws was a professional effort; a decent start. However, as I noted then, I wasn't sure if Tabatha was a one-shot or a first issue, as the story felt like it wrapped up in its final few pages. Well, here's my answer in the form of a trade paperback, a complete story told in four issues. Do we get answers to the mysterious final lines of that first issue? You bet, but here's the thing. Having read this whole story all I have is a lot more questions and not the fun kind. This isn't because the story is vague. This is a pretty straightforward tale, an unusual premise to be sure but very linear with no real hidden crevices. Tabatha tells the story of four friends living in Los Angeles who have turned to burglary to solve their financial problems. One night they unwittingly break into the house of a prolific special-effects artist who we are to believe, thanks to his museum-like basement, is responsible for pretty much every iconic piece of movie special effects since the 80's. However, this Hollywood maker-of-monsters is up to something more tangibly sinister and the four burglars find themselves drawn into a vicious net of murder, torture, and mad science.
The art, as in the first issue, is very nice. Caspar Wijngaard has animation-like stylization, but with a restrained individual style that is often pleasing and expressive. There's room for improvement, particularly with compositions that are often flat and repetitive, but paired with his warm soothing colors it makes for one of the more attractive books I've reviewed recently.
However, as a story, I'm a bit befuddled. It's not that the premise throws me. Anyone familiar with what I review on a weekly basis will know that my tastes actually tend to rest in the far right of normal, and this book is pretty straightforward compared to things like The Book of Da and Love Machines. Instead, my confusion comes from trying to figure out what reaction these issues were supposed to illicit, as the erratic tone of this book falls somewhere just short of Kevin Smith's 'Tusk'.
The question I pose is this: is this supposed to be a comedy? Clearly a lot of emphasis is put into the comedy. Nearly every character is put in mortal peril at some point or threatened with the loss of loved ones, but I'll be damned if I can't find one character who can make it through a scene without being ironically blasé and chipper about their personal nightmare. Comedy has a definite place in horror. Many of the best films and comics of horror are very funny and some consider it an integral part of the recipe. However, without balance the scale tips as it does here, and the book shifts towards parody, making no effort at being scary or disturbing.
I'll avoid spoiling anything, but midway through Issue Two I totally lost track of what the book was trying to make me feel and after that, this apparently disturbing story was rendered completely inert. It doesn't help that comedy is, at this point and time, not Neil Gibson's forte and this book pairs an overabundance of it with not one joke after Issue One that lands. It isn't to say that it is unpleasant to read. Gibson has a better command of panel pacing than most indie people I read but the disconnect of the material from the emotions it wants (or seems to want, I can't tell) to achieve is more weird than the mad scientist’s central plan. The art and pacing made me want to like this book but I closed the final odd page with empty confusion.
It's rare that I put down a work that I really don't like but still find myself hoping that the creative team will make something better. Wijngaard is pretty talented and he seems to share a good creative rapport with Gibson. They are both growing as artists and nobody involved in this shows an absence of ability. If you'd like to see what I mean, read the first issue of Tabatha, but honestly I think it works better as a one-shot with a tantalizing dangling end that lets your imagination fill in the gap rather than what actually follows. My advice, stick with that and wait to see what they do next.
Writer: Neil Gibson Artist: Caspar Wijngaard Publisher: T-Pub Format: TPB; Print Website