Disclaimer: The reviewer, Wilson Taylor, is also published under the Alterna Comics label. These opinions are solely the opinion of the reviewer and do not represent the creators of The Croak or of Alterna Comics. I love horror comics because of the tight limitations that they're placed under, they must haunt, spook, and terrify all without the viscera of true-to-life effects, without the reaction-wrenching effect of loud sounds and they must be written and composed well enough to get the reader interested enough to be taken on its horrific ride. A movie can startle and spook without trying because of the human body, not necessarily the mind, reacts to active stimuli such as sound and images they psychologically connect to their own body. Without doing so, the primitive man would have never known to run away from the thing that just turned his buddy into gore-paste.
That said, horror comics are hard. Many horror comics rely on pulp aesthetics to add vintage appeal to their core premise, and I often find myself turned off by the approach. Give me a comic that's confident enough in its premise and its story and art to actually try scaring me. So does Croak deliver?
Croak plays a risky gambit, and I'm very happy to announce that, yeah, for the most part, it delivers, though not without some imperfections. The aforementioned risky gambit is to begin with a wholly unoriginal setup and reveal its cards as being a twist on established formula by the end. The setup and you can feel free to sing along with me if you know the words, is that three teenagers go off into the woods for a camping trip, and a spooky something is hunting them and plotting their demise.
Without spoiling the ending, the ending is exactly what an indie comic issue #1 needs to be these days: a promise. My major problem with, say, High Noon Rising was that no matter how well executed its story, art, and conveyance, it gave me no reason to come back, no question that needed to be answered. The implications of Croak's ending are both surprising in the moment and laid the groundwork for what could hopefully be an extremely interesting comic that takes a swift, immediate left turn from standard horror.
If they stay with the established characters that is.
I find myself worried about this comic's future just slightly, as it's a premise that is only interesting if followed through on. Again, doing my best not to spoil, what happens to the main characters is something unlike standard horror-thrillers. The problem is that if we focus on the being/beast that did this to them, rather than the characters that are already afflicted, then the story will, in reality, be mimicking the horror it's subverting to the "T." We need to see the consequences of this horrific act, we need to see how this plays out, and that means not using this issue as solely a proof that the monster is something horrific and must be avoided by new, uninformed characters, but rather as the first step in a long series of atrocities and twists. I cannot stress enough what a letdown it would be to see this strange beast turn into another boilerplate "bump in the night."
There's nothing in Croak that hints at the idea of starting over from scratch with a new cast in issue #2, but it's a dance I've seen too many times to not be worried about. My other complaints begin and end with occasionally stiff art, dialogue that can lean on empty witticisms and argument and the rare hiccup in scene conveyance. As competent as the writer and artist are, however, special attention should be paid to colorist Chris O'Halloran who imbues each scene with an eerie presence that is consistently creepy while never crossing into overly dark or dull.
As comics are short, and each first issue must be treated as a promise, consider me highly intrigued. This is a promise that gets me excited, and it's tough to get me excited when we live in a world where each comic is so desperate for an issue #2 sale that it forgets to make its issue #1 an exciting, well-balanced ride on its own. So yeah, consider this an indie comic recommendation. I've been looking to make one ever since I joined Comic Bastards.
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Croak #1 Writer: Cody Andrew Sousa Artist: Francesco Iaquinta Colorist: Chris O'Halloran Publisher: Alterna Comics Price: $2.99 Format: Ongoing; Digital