Vertigo has a strong history of producing top notch horror comics. There is also a wider tradition of issue ones being a little hit and miss. Which would prevail with this brand new title?
Shawn Aldridge has a clearly defined mission statement in this issue and that is to establish the main characters as effectively as possible. That’s great in that it allows the audience to build the appropriate feelings and connections, it also adds gravity to anything sinister that takes place down the line. What it isn’t so good for though is delivering an exciting or scary read and that’s something that you would have expected from a comic entitled ‘The Dark and Bloody’.
Aldridge starts his tale at the very beginning of Iris’s development. He shows a young boy growing up in a tough backwoods environment who is forced to drown a sack of dogs at his father’s behest. It is a jarring and emotive start to the book and one that creates just the right blend of sympathy and unease towards Iris.
From there the action moves closer to the present day and sees Iris in the middle of a warzone. His compassionate nature shines through in this section as he takes the time to honour the enemies dead. He goes so far as to argue with his own comrades as he anoints each fallen man with a cross, something that would be considered a kindness in his culture if not theirs.
The story then jumps forwards by over a decade again as readers find Iris settled into a life back in a backwoods town in his small cabin. He is now bootlegging moonshine but more than that he is caring for a blossoming family as he has a wife, a son, and another baby on the way. His mildly criminal activity is shown to be one of necessity rather than any malice and it just makes this character more relatable and likable.
His wife is also a kindly soul despite her distaste for her husband’s clientele. She should serve as an anchor to Iris as things become darker in the next couple of issues. His son is also likeable in his relatively brief appearance and appears to be a chip off the old block as he holds many of the characteristic glimpsed at in his father.
Aldridge is quite liberal with the use of exposition to establish these people and that can lead to a slightly disjointed and grating reading experience at times. It is certainly not the smoothest script ever but it does have its merits as outlined above.
The biggest problem comes with the introduction of the evil that stalks the local area. It seems to come out of nowhere and doesn’t make a tremendous amount of sense. Of course it will be explored further in due course but for now it was less a chilling omen and more an unwelcome pest. Either it should have come at the very end with a little more foreshadowing or it should have been saved for the next issue with other useful hints being given to cap off this story.
Scott Godlewski does an outstanding job of capturing the tone of the piece with his dark, moody art work. He has a knack for not showing all of the monster but still giving enough for that one frame to be effective despite the story problem surrounding it. You won’t find yourself becoming lost in his work as it does not try to be overly complex but rather simple and straight to the point, a choice that benefits this title to no end.
Patricia Mulvihill adds to his work with her own colours and does just enough to portray the feel of the story effectively. She does not overshadow anyone else’s efforts which can be interpreted in both a positive and a negative way depending on your thinking. For now, though she has given a worthy contribution to the book.
The Dark and Bloody was a comic that a lot of people probably won’t have been aware of prior to its launch. It was not the most hotly anticipated title but it did hold some promise in its old school horror setting and gothic visage. That potential was not fully realised in the first outing but this is still a book that deserves to be present on your haul list for at least one more installment.
Score: 3 out of 5.
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