Thinking about getting away to someplace nice, perhaps near a lake, means there are spoilers ahead for…
“How gentlemanly, letting me pick my own apocalypse.”
One thing I often think about is how when it comes to movies, TV shows, and books I’m very genre-focused. I like what I like, I’ve been around long enough to have a pretty good handle on what I’m likely to like, and I rarely seek out anything outside of those bounds. It doesn’t matter how many “greatest of all times” lists a movie gets on, or how beloved it is by critics and audiences alike, if it’s not the kind of movie I’d normally watch, I’m unlikely to watch it. At least, I’m unlikely to deliberately seek it out. If it happens to be on HBO or something and I happen to be in the mood to watch something, I’ll probably check it out. I’ll likely even enjoy it, but that enjoyment probably won’t lead me to seek out similar content in the future.
When it comes to comics, however, I don’t limit myself anywhere near as much. I’ll happily seek out any comic on any subject, irrespective of whether it’s the kind of thing I’d normally seek out in any other medium. I suppose that, ultimately, it’s a matter of liking comics as a storytelling medium and art form more than any other.
Horror is something of an edge case, in that it’s a genre that is often related to the other genres I like, and while I won’t often seek it out in other media, I’m more likely to seek it out than I am any of my other non-preferred genres. Of course, part of the reason I generally avoid horror movies is that I’m a wimp and I live alone in a house that has weird acoustics that often make outside noises seem as though they’re coming from inside.
But given my aforementioned willingness to venture into other narrative territories in comics, and that horror has, in some way or another, been a part of my comics-reading experience from the start, I do read horror comics much more frequently than I watch horror movies.
All of which is just part of my characteristically-lengthy preamble to talking about the comic in today’s Spotlight.
I’ve been enjoying Tynion’s work on Something Is Killing The Children, so when I saw he had a new book coming out from DC’s Black Label imprint, I decided to check it out, and that is what, finally, brings us here.
The story opens with a young woman who’s looking a bit worse for wear sitting in what looks to be a bit of a post-apocalyptic setting talking directly to the reader and telling us how and when it all began, which “was the end of a late night in Brooklyn.” It’s a rather typical story about circles of friends that overlap with other circles of friends, and it was in that Venn diagram of friend groups that she encountered a man who was part of, yet apart from, one circle or another, and he asked her a question:
“How do you think the world will end?”
While she is, understandably, a bit taken aback, this little icebreaker leads to a conversation, one that continues on for a time and develops into something of a friendship. Though she believes he has romantic feelings for her, it apparently remains just a friendship, and the majority of it revolves around that conversation in some way or another.
Then the conversation stops for a time, until she gets an email from him inviting her – along with several others – to a summer getaway.
Given the year she’s had, Ryan – we learn her name via the email – accepts the offer from Walter (ditto on how we learn his name), and makes her way to Wisconsin. The reference to “the state of the world” in the email is one of a few references to the pandemic – as is the “given the year she’s had” part – which gives us a sense of when this happening, which is to say, it’s happening now.
With each character introduction, we are given a caption that contains information about the character, an assigned codename/role, a symbol that represents the character, how Walter knows the character, which group of friends the character is a part of, and, rather ominously, an indication of when the character was “selected.”
The codenames and symbols exist in-story as well, and are mentioned in the itinerary email Walter sends Ryan.
I’ve created little name placards for everyone that will be placed around the house. I did it because I think it’s fun and ALSO because these documents talk about the others attending, and I wanted to keep the final guest-list a little mysterious. This was more a concern with my other friends, to keep them from asking around and looping in people who weren’t invited.
You are THE ARTIST.
Over the course of your visit, you might find a few little treats labelled with your symbol that I know you’ll appreciate. Most importantly, you’ll find your symbol on your bedroom.
Given what we later learn, the mention in that same email of three others who were invited – we learn that there are twelve people on the finalized, confirmed guest list – not attending being disappointing to Walter, who adds, “but I think the others will be more disappointed in the long run,” becomes ominous in retrospect.
The house on the lake turns out to be beyond merely nice, and ventures into amazing and opulent territory. Because those present aren’t all from the same “clusters” of friends, not everyone knows everyone else especially well, but some do know each other very well, and there is some awkwardness, as there are some exes thrown into the mix.
(It’s also worth noting that, for all its niceness, the house apparently doesn’t have Wi-Fi, and Ryan seems to be the only one who can get cell service.)
In time, with some of the initial awkwardness out of the way, Walter arrives, and the festivities begin.
We’re treated to a sort of montage spread of the guests enjoying themselves – or not, depending on their personalities – and we see Walter and Ryan exchange a glance before Ryan, who has mostly been off by herself, absents herself even further, breaks out her phone, and as she launches Twitter she ends up taking “doomscrolling” to a new level.
Ryan interrupts the party in a panic to show them all what’s happening, and they find the TV and are greeted by a message from the Emergency Broadcast System. They weigh their options, and, in my opinion, decide on the worst one, which is to pack up their things and drive to Milwaukee (and I’m not just saying that it’s a bad idea because it’s Milwaukee).
With that decided, Ryan suddenly has a realization.
Walter confirms that she is correct, and that he is not who – or even what – his friends believe him to be. Their presence here during this cataclysm is not a coincidence, and Walter explains that there is nowhere for them to go. He brought his friends to the nice house, because it is the only place in the world that is safe from what his people, whoever and whatever they may be, are doing to the world. They can never leave the nice house that has now become both their prison and their refuge.
This was a strong start with an interesting premise that raises a lot of questions about what, exactly, is going on. Who are Walter’s people? What, if any, significance do the assigned symbols have? What exactly is going on in the world outside the nice house?
If I have a complaint it’s that I feel like it jumped to the actual cataclysm a little too quickly. Given how the book starts, we know right away that something is going to happen, so I feel like there was a little breathing room to keep the stakes a little lower until the next issue, giving us an opportunity to see how the information we were provided on the captions plays out in the interpersonal dynamics between the characters in a more “normal” environment.
I’m sure we’ll see that play out in the high-stress situations that will follow from this event, but I just think it would have been beneficial to get a little bit more of that interaction when the rest of the world isn’t on fire. One could argue that we’ll see who these people really are as things progress and the ongoing crisis reveals their nature, but there would have been some benefit to seeing how they are at the best of times before we dive into seeing who they are at the worst of times.
When we did get those scenes in the story I really enjoyed them, as they captured the awkwardness of being in a social setting where there are some people you know and like, others you know and don’t like, and some you only kind of know, the friends of friends who you aren’t really sure about. The kind of people you’ve found yourself being introduced to – or to whom you have to introduce yourself – dozens of times over the years because either you or they just don’t manage to “stick” in each other’s minds or the minds of those introducing you to each other.
(I’m reminded of an exchange I had one time when being introduced to a friend’s sister, and I said, “What is this, like the tenth time we’ve been introduced?” to which she responded, “The eleventh, I think.”)
I also feel like it would have had more of an impact on the characters for this to hit a couple of days in, after they’ve had a chance to relax, and more firmly establish the group dynamics.
But it’s a minor complaint, and I’m looking forward to the next issue, and while I think it came too quickly, I do like the way we see the realization that apocalypse has arrived play out, as it perfectly reflects the way in such a thing would happen in the modern world. Experience over the last 4 years has taught me that the likelihood that we would be getting vital updates from someone called something like “Billy Boy 18+ OnlyFans $5” is extremely high.
(And I guarantee that in-story there were people working on make-up tutorial videos on how to address your skin sloughing off your bones.)
That it touches on themes of being isolated, and trapped, quarantined away from the dangerous and deadly world outside the safety of your home is, of course, no coincidence, and is something I expect we’ll be seeing in a lot of stories for a long time to come, and it adds to the resonance of the story, particularly given that a nice house on a lake that’s filled with amenities is exactly the sort of place in which many of us wish we could have spent the last year-plus of our lives.
I really liked the way the art moved between being kind of loose and open in wide shots of people – with more of a focus on the intricately-detailed background – and then tightened up on the close-up shots. In cooperation with the colors it lent the whole book a kind of painterly effect.
Speaking of the colors, I liked that that it involved a lot of bright primary colors, but displayed them in a muted, destaturated fashion that added a kind of haze and gave the book a dreamlike feel. I especially liked the scenes after Ryan’s discovery of what was happening outside in which almost all of the colors virtually disappeared, and we were left with high-contrast, increasingly-monochromatic shades that lent a greater impact to the horrifying revelations.
It very much evokes a feeling I’ve experienced when confronted with a horrifying truth, as if all of the color has just drained out of the world.
In any case, horror movies? Nah, no so much. Horror comics? Sure. This horror comic? Definitely.