Category Archives: Imps of the reverse

Many Haunted Mansions

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Horror springs from what you won’t look at to begin with. We fear what we don’t understand, and can’t understand what (and whom) we don’t know. The street you never walk down, the knock at the door from an invading presence, are the ingredients of the 2019 American horrorshow. The decent, damaged, diversely rooted squatters in Dynamite’s Death-Defying ’Devil #1 are at the center of an urban maze, about to be erased by a murderous developer whose distance from them disqualifies them as human. We’re in one of the rat and rodent-infested hells of privileged myth, and it might take a fantasy of equal power to resist it. The tenants’ man-with-no-name is, aptly enough, one who can’t use his own; the weird, violent harlequin, the good scary clown who emerges from nowhere to defend them and whom they then take in, is the “Daredevil” of 1940s comics, whose adventures were dramas of the downtrodden and whose trademark lapsed. In the psychoanalytic eye of writer Gail Simone and the photojournalistic hands of artist Walter Geovani, he’s blown back in off the scrapheap of history, his split but sutured costume a remnant of coexisting red and blue, his unhesitating heroism and extensive injury that of the paradoxical bleeding savior. His time has come again, and whether that’s a reassuring or terrifying signal is the suspense his adoptive family, and we, may live to see resolved.

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American Gothic Press’ Monster World: The Golden Age #1 falls back to the depths of the original Daredevil’s own dark era, mid-Depression in a cold December Manhattan. It was a time when the soaring towers of humanity’s achievement seemed due to be toppled by malevolent deities, and private detective Hank Barrymore is on a trail that leads him to demon informants and divine corruption. The primal jealousies that motivate so much crime-fiction foul play trace back to the pulp scripture of the Bible, and this tale of disfavored angels, pre-Flood superhumans still walking the earth, the seedy damned and the everyday fallen mortal caught in the others’ conflict for the favor (or stature) of a silent God conveys the fundamental fright of a world abandoned, a paradise withdrawn. These connections are conceived insightfully by story writer Philip Kim, and made flesh compellingly by script writer Holly Interlandi, whose ability to speak in the tongues of hardboiled period PIs and timelessly smartass hellspawns, and maintain the foreboding atmosphere of medieval morality play yet deadpan pace of modern noir, is near flawless. Artist Piotr Kowalski, doing his best work yet, imparts visions in a stunning range of stylistic tones and emotional textures, from vintage silver screen to archaic illuminated tome (the 1930s locations, black-and-white movie vocabulary, engraved Gothic rendering and a flashback framed as a book-within-a-comic of mystic lore in Dark Ages-scribe style, all cast us into another world). The simmering gloom and alien glows of Dennis Calero’s sinister but subtle color art is the finishing stain on this story’s dark glass.

Every antihero and ambiguous villain in Monster World so far is a compromised product of heaven, and the menaces on the other side of the door in Death-Defying ’Devil are other humans just like you, who don’t know it. The realest monsters are already right here, and God is scary enough on his own.

(Death-Defying ’Devil #1 goes on sale August 7, 2019; Monster World: The Golden Age #1 is on sale now.)