Hope…for the Future, Vol 1 – A Neo-Noir, Pulp Crime Horror

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Imagine the black and white pulp crime world of Dick Tracy mixed with the neo-noir of Frank Miller’s Sin City. Now, add in a dash of occult magic and envision the love child of James Ellroy and Alan Moore, a genre-bending mashup of L.A. Confidential and Hellblazer. Starting to get the picture? If you love any of those genres as much as I do, then you will be head-over-heels for 2000AD’s gritty detective graphic novel Hope…for the Future. 

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Hope for the Future comic book cover
Hope for the Future comic book cover

In an alternate post-war 1940s Los Angeles, where occult forces are a fact of life, Mallory Hope is a private detective haunted by his past… and by the demon he works with. When a new case involving a missing boy reminds him of his own lost child, Hope is determined to find him. But he soon discovers all is not what it seems, with dark powers lurking behind the lights of Hollywood

Our protagonist, John Mallory, is very much a John Constantine type: a hard boiled private investigator who’s tuned into the magical world existing beneath everyday reality. He’s a man on a mission, navigating the dark underbelly of 1940s Los Angeles with a dry wit and a grim disposition that makes him immediately likeable. He’s rough and tough, and when given the option to run or double down he always chooses the latter (at one point shrugging and saying “It’s been hours since my last beating”). But he’s also compassionate – demonstrated when he risks his life to save a misfortunate child threatened by a gang of violent goons. I was invested in him from the very first page, his narration really helps to carry the story and give it the necessary exposition and snark.

john mallory art from Hope for the Future comic
John Mallory takes a beating

In this story Hope is tasked with finding a young movie prodigy, a child star who has suddenly gone missing. His investigation will take him to various Hollywood locales, from glitzy film production studios to seedy underground clubs. Along the way we learn about his use of magical powers and how these supernatural interactions are slowly draining his life force. We learn about the enigmatic spirit he accidentally conjured, who wears a nun’s habit and gas mask and feeds off his misery. And we learn, to my great excitement, that there is an overarching storyline about him tracking down the dark being who stole away his wife and son.

demon kidnapping art from Hope for the Future comic
A demonic kidnapper

The writing of Guy Adams is on point here. Literally every single wistful, droll, and pessimistic line from Hope is gold. The story includes a good mix of drama, horror, and humor, and the core mystery of the missing boy would be compelling enough, but the added occult elements really elevate it. Inserting scenes of snake-tongued demons into a detective thriller plot is jarring, but in the best way possible. I definitely appreciate that magic is simply part of the story, and that it’s the dynamic characters who drive the momentum. We get just enough backstory on Mallory to make him engaging, but there’s suggestions of more intriguing reveals in the future. 

And that art from Jimmy Broxton…wow. Normally, I’m a fan of vibrant colors in comics, but the black and white illustrations here just fit so superbly. They’re grungy, gritty, and the art certainly feels like an homage to earlier horror/crime comics. I love the shading and stark contrasts, and how the style bends towards realism in the way the characters and settings are drawn. I also love how Broxton overlays swirling runes and symbols across the panels to let us know when magic is (literally) in the air.

Occult magic art from Hope for the Future comic
Seeing the world through dark magic

This first volume, in my opinion, is a near perfect story. It’s a horror crime thriller with a solid plot  and great pacing, populated with wonderful character archetypes plucked from the supernatural noir genre that bred it. It has a self-contained storyline, but it expertly weaves in a larger plot and perfectly sets up the next book. At 66 pages it’s a very quick read and it leaves you hungry for more. I absolutely cannot wait to join Mallory Hope’s further adventures in the next volume!

Hope…for the Future is available now from 2000AD Comics

Killadelphia – A Horror Comic Fable

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Before I start a new book, I’m always interested to see who else is talking about it. I like to think if creators I respect are praising the book then I too will enjoy it. So it’s safe to say my expectations were pretty high when I came across the much lauded graphic novel Killadelphia, which Jordan Peele claims is the “stunning and fresh horror fable” he’s been craving and Tananarive Due says is a “genuinely frightening horror graphic”. But therein lies the double edge of the sword, where cover blurbs and comparisons can sometimes over inflate an otherwise decent story and put it in a realm of expectation that is impossible to meet.

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Killadelphia horror comic cover
Killadelphia horror comic book cover

So, the question is does the Killadelphia comic live up to the hype?

I’m happy to report that for the most part it does. It’s bloody, gritty, and completely engaging.

Killadelphia Horror Comic Synopsis

Jimmy Sangster Jr is a cop who has returned to his hometown in Philadelphia to bury his recently deceased father, detective Jimmy Sangster Sr. Their father-son relationship was never very strong, and the death comes as a relief to Jimmy. However, back in his childhood home he finds his father’s journal and reads a startling story about Sangster Sr and chief medical examiner Jose. Recently they had been investigating a string of bizarre murders and, as the bodies in the morgue come back to life, they realize the culprits they’re hunting are…vampires!

vampire art from killadelphia horror comic
Killadelphia is full of unexpected surprises

Turns out John Adams, a founding father and former president, is a vampire and has been slowly amassing a horde of followers over the centuries in a bid to take back the America he helped begin so long ago. His crooked revolution is 300 hundred years in the making and apparently now it’s time to put it into action. With the doomsday clock ticking down, Jimmy Jr realizes he’s going to need the help of someone he had finally let go of. With shovel in hand he digs up his undead father and together, with the help of Jose and a few others, they face the vampire army dead on in a final effort to save their city.

For a story about an undead former president trying to take over the city (and yes, I kept thinking about a certain Deadpool storyline from Brain Posehn), Killadelphia is firmly grounded in realistic characters and a gripping plot. Jimmy Jr has conflicting feelings about his father, who was at turns abusive and absent during his childhood. His mother was the glue holding their family together, and when she passed their fragile relationship seemed to have crumbled. But now father and son are going to have to learn how to work through their differences in order to save the city they both care for. As readers we care about their characters, but I am thankful their back and forth quibbling was kept to a minimum.

There are also many relevant social issues and ideas woven into the storyline, including class disparity, poverty, racism, gentrification, addiction, and political corruption. The city itself, with its historical implications and complex history of social unrest, plays a significant role in the plot and is the perfect setting for such a story. I also appreciate that this isn’t just a story of good vs evil, as arguably none of the characters are purely good or bad. Even Adams, with his disturbing plan to rebuild the country, truly believes what he is doing is right.

vampire attack art from Killadelphia horror comic
Resistance is futile in Killadelphia

Of course, in a story about vampires there is also going to be a fair amount of supernatural horror elements. Apart from the whole blood-sucking monster thing, there’s also an interesting twist involving a (relatively) young vampire named Tevin and a magical book that he is entrusted to carry by John Adams. Tevin is actually one of my favorite characters in the graphic novel, and I really like the arc his storyline takes. I can’t say much more because of spoilers, but I’ll just say the second half goes in some neat directions I did not expect.

Killadelphia Vampires

Though the characters are strong and the plot is interesting, the vampires are definitely what elevate the story. Their design follows classic tradition for the most part: humanoid, yellow eyes, fangs, elongated fingers, and a healthy fear of sunlight. They can fly, they cohabitate in “nests,” and sleep hanging from the ceiling. Interestingly, they also are typically naked and cry tears of blood. They are also incredibly brutal, vicious, and efficient at killing. This is certainly a horror graphic novel, and there are several frightening and suspenseful moments along the way. It’s not Scott Snyder’s Wytches kind of scary, but it still works. I do love how much of the story is focused on the vampires’ perspective (be they “bad” or “good” they do make up most of the characters). And we get to see a lot of different perspectives on vampirism, from those who see it as a spiritual awakening or means to power to those who see it as a curse or form of slavery.

good vampire from Killadelphia horror comic
Not all vampires are bad

Killadelphia Comic Art

And the art! Oh my goodness the illustrations and colors are gorgeous here. The artwork of Jason Shawn Alexander excels in creating the dark, gritty noir atmosphere necessary for the story. I love the style, and it reminds me somewhat of comic artist John Bolton (whose style I also adore). Facial expressions and body movements are drawn in realistic detail, and it was interesting to learn at the end of the book how Alexander does photoshoots with live models to prepare for his pieces. Colors by Luis NCT perfectly compliment, bathing scenes in dark shadows and buckets of blood.

Here Rodney Barnes has given us a pretty solid story. There are some themes that didn’t quite pan out, and the romance angle between Jimmy Jr and Jose felt unearned and tacked on. But overall, I really enjoyed reading it. And though the primary storyline is wrapped up here, the ending easily sets us up for a sequel. I for one am very much looking forward to sinking my teeth into another volume of Killadelphia in the future!

Killadelphia is available now from Image Comics

Blue in Green – Music, Secrets and Ghosts

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It is well documented that music can have an almost otherworldly hold over us; lowering stress hormones, raising dopamine levels, evoking specific memories, or transporting us to various times and places. But if music has this sort of cosmic power, could it possibly turn into a type of cosmic horror? For example, could a malevolent force created from art stalk us with intent to harm, as in the film Velvet Buzzsaw? Or could the bewitching and obsessive pursuit of art make monsters out of regular people, like what happens in the film Whiplash? Or maybe, as we see in the graphic novel Blue in Green, the terrifying reality lies somewhere in between. 

The story begins with a man named Erik getting a call that his mother has passed, prompting him to return to his childhood home, where he finds a photograph of an unknown man in his mother’s most prized possessions. The ensuing questions launch Erik on a quest that will lead him down some unexpected paths. Who was that man? What was his mother’s connection to him? And who exactly is the pale figure lurking in the periphery of the pages? More clues are uncovered and the mystery deepens as the story twists and turns, winding its way to an ultimately shocking conclusion.

Erik is a character struggling with his current situation in life. A talented saxophone player, he now squanders his skill teaching college classes and avoiding any close relationships. He ponders the fragility of life and wonders how many of us will leave this world without making an impact. His own desires, his failings, the expectations of family and society – all of these topics are the swirling subconscious maelstrom that push the story forward and pull back the curtain to its darker underpinnings. 

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Image from Blue and Green Graphic novel featuring a scared face and a tentacle

And this story certainly has a sinister underbelly. I love stories like this, full of dread, ambiguity, and uncertainty. From the very first image of the pale man you know something is off, but the terror stays in the background for much of the story, adding to the mystery and unraveling the deeper Erik digs. It’s still horror, but more of the understated, slithering-beneath-the-skin kind, which makes those moments when it bursts into daylight even more terrifying. I’ll be honest, I don’t want to say too much about the plot. Not just because I don’t want to give away spoilers, but because this is truly a tale that needs to be experienced.

While the story from writer Ram V is good, the art from Anand RK is really what makes this graphic novel shine. I don’t think I’ve seen a style quite like this, and I was continuously blown away with every page. It’s a mesmerizing blend of architectural precision, vaguely brushed forms, and a particularly gorgeous and enchanting array of colors thanks to John Pearson. The unconventional design of the pages is also really neat, shifting from full page spreads to pages with panels strewn about it like panes of glass. It reminds me of Dave McKean’s work, specifically on the Grant Morrison tale Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth (and now that I think of it the pale man shares a resemblance to the Joker). Regardless, the art is captivating and it works well to elevate the story. 

The Blue in Green graphic novel is a story first and foremost about music and the creative pursuit. But it also weaves in ideas about the burdens of the past and the ghosts that haunt our present. It’s about family secrets, loss, rapture, unexplainable feelings, and cosmic dread. We are confined to the mind of Erik, and as the story progresses we have to question how reliable of a narrator he really is. I may not have understood everything that happened, but I know it was well worth the experience. This is a story that is ripe for further read throughs and I’m already itching to dive back in.

Blue in Green is available now from Image Comics.

Wyrd and Other Derelictions by Adam Nevill

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Wyrd and Other Derelictions by Adam Nevill is available now from Ritual Limited.

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What’s it like to be the first on the “scene of the crime”? What’s it like to visit the living vacuum of traumatic events; places empty of humanity yet brimming with the electrified air of horrifying aftershock. Or maybe they’re not so empty. Was that a thump upstairs? Did that shadow just move? Why is there a foot laying here, and where is the rest of the body? Is something out there?

This collection of derelictions (i.e. stories of abandonment) is experimental writing in its truest form. With each tale author Adam Nevill places us in a story post-climax, or a sort of unresolved or unfinished epilogue. Something truly devastating has happened in this setting, but all we’re given are grim clues. There are no characters and no dialogue. Only descriptions of scenes and a narrative style that feels like someone is leading you through the chaos. You are intrigued, you are disturbed, and you’re not quite sure what is going on.

Wyrd and Other Derelictions horror book cover

The thing about such an approach to “storytelling” that Wyrd and Other Derelictions (2020) takes is that it’s incredibly risky. It’s automatically going to put most readers into a love-it-or-hate-it camp from the very first couple of stories. But the author is discerning enough to know that, and in fact he is intentionally playing with form and expression. There is an author’s note at the back of the book where he explains the germ for the collection, and what other avenues of thought and experimentation came out of that. It’s all very compelling, but does it work?

For me, at least, the answer is a strong yes! Both the wordsmith and the horror lover in me absolutely enjoyed what Nevill is trying to accomplish here, and I think he manages to knock it out of the park. The collection is a mashup of cult/alien/creature stories, all very strange and eerie in their telling. Though they follow a similar narrative style, they are all different enough to stand on their own. Each has at least one scene (usually the ending) that will haunt me for a long time. The writing is wonderfully descriptive and engaging; a vivid prose style that carries the brunt of the ploy and does it well, even without characters and even without dialogue.

All the stories were gems in my opinion, and I loved them all for different reasons. To rank them would be to degrade them, but there are some that stand out particularly to me are. “Hippocampus” is the story of cargo freight adrift in the stormy sea; the crew are in various states of dismemberment and something squirmy is lurking below deck. In “Monument” an ancient burial chamber is unearthed and something is building pyres in the backyards of a suburban neighborhood. And finally, “Enlivened” depicts a ghastly scene of ritual mutilation followed by the exploration of a house, where something skitters and thumps amongst the dead.

My only complaint, though not a complaint really, is that the nature of the stories and the description-heavy writing style are such that each takes time to get through. They require slower reading and more processing. That’s not a bad thing, but it does make reading them all back to back less of a satisfying endeavor. My recommendation would be to space them out over a period of weeks, or even one a month. They all deserve to ruminate in your mind, so give them the space to breath

Again, this is very much a love it or leave it collection. Many readers I trust absolutely hated it, while others were enamored by it. Clearly I’m in the second camp, but I’m curious to hear what others think. Either way I think it’s safe to say that Adam Nevill has created something fairly unique and enticing in a genre that unfortunately abounds with cliché. And for that, at the very least, I’m grateful.

Wyrd and Other Derelictions by Adam Nevill is available now from Ritual Limited. Adam Nevill is an English writer of supernatural horror, most known for his book The Ritual.

Ice Cream Man, Volume 1

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Your average storybook monster is, to be sure, frightening. Your vampires, zombies, bogeymen, ghosts and ghouls are often horrifying and quite deadly. But beyond these classic creeps, I believe there’s a particularly unsettling perversion when one takes something playful or innocent and twists it to evil. When comical clowns become stalking killers. When staring dolls begin haunting households. At this point it’s an overused trope to be sure, but still one that I find truly chilling. And Ice Cream Man Volume 1 is chilling!

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Ice Cream Man vol 1 horror comic cover
Ice Cream Man, Vol 1 horror comic cover

Yet even more disturbing and dangerous are the horrors that lurk in plain sight, hiding behind false smiles or inside the people we trust. In the real world the metaphor of “monster” drops away and the true ugliness of humanity is revealed. Murderers, rapists, pedophiles, psychopaths – even the scariest of creations don’t hold a candle to these that are both frightening and frightfully real. Give me Bigfoot over Bateman and Bates, Dracula over Dahmer and Bundy, Wendigo over Weinstein…you get the idea. 

So now we come to Ice Cream Man, Volume 1. The setting is suburban, idyllic, a 1950s American Dreamland (but with more racial tolerance). Up drives the titular treat seller, playing the tune we all have engraved in our ears from when we were kids. He’s full of pleasantries and colloquialisms as he hands out all the favorite flavors. Yet something is off. There is rot beneath the sugar sweet veneer. A shadow passes over his face. The eyes turn menacing, the grin sinister. And suddenly this harmless character from our youth transforms into something much more nightmarish.

ice cream man art from Ice Cream Man horror comic
“Lickety Split”

I really enjoyed my reading of this first volume in the Ice Cream Man series. Writer W. Maxwell Prince has structured it as a collection of short stories, varying in their plots yet tethered together by themes and the enigmatic Ice Cream Man. “Raspberry Surprise” is about a boy whose venomous spider has killed his parents, but he doesn’t tell anyone. “Rainbow Sprinkles” is about a pair of doped up lovers, one dying and the other distraught yet still hankering for her next fix. In “Good Ol’ Fashioned Vanilla” we see the washed up one-hit wonder Bud Hickey journey to a fantasy world full of rock legends who need his help. And finally, the last story “Every Good Boy Does Fine” is about a man giving the eulogy at his best friend’s funeral while his friend is trapped in an ever-changing hellscape. 

I love how different the stories are, and yet how connected they all feel. Each story has a self-contained arc, but pervasive in all the characters is a sense of immense suffering, whether from emotional pain, boredom, regret, or loneliness. And of course there’s the otherworldly Ice Cream Man who, whether he is a main character or mostly in the background, plays some important part in each tale. He is certainly not one to be overlooked, and he doesn’t let you forget that. It’s also difficult to pin down exactly who or what he is, as he seems to shift from friend to foe and from god to demon. Regardless, what is clear is that he enjoys playing a cosmic, and often deadly, role in the lives of these suburbanites. 

The art is a little different from most horror comics I’ve read, but it seems to fit the vintage-meets-surreal style the series is going for. The characters in particular are drawn in an interesting manner, with faces and features that are slightly Mike Judge meets Junji Ito

sweet place art from Ice Cream Man horror comic
Stuck in the Sweet Place

I will say that Martin Morazzo’s sharp-lined illustrations and Chris O’Halloran’s bold colors work well together in bringing these twisted tales to life. I also particularly like the design of the pages, which usually include a full image background broken up by smaller panels of action and dialogue. It’s a fluid and integrative composition that helps give a sense of immediacy and intimacy to the story.

Ok, I’ll admit it: I’m hooked. I’ve heard the off-kilter jingle and tasted the sickly-sweet treats, and I want more. Ice Cream Man, Volume 1 is a fun and frightening collection of intertwined short stories, full of lifelike characters experiencing bizarre and unnerving turns of events. If the rest of the series is this good then we have a new pop culture icon in the making, and I need to get my hands on the next volume. Lickety Split.


Ice Cream Man, Volume 1 is available now from Image Comics.