Only In Whispers #1
Written by Steve Kanaras, Andrew Pollock
Art by Matt Ryan, Stephanie O’ Donnell, Anthony Summey
Free Lunch Comics
Cover price: $3.95; Available now
In the same vein, and covering a lot of the same territory as old favorites like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Tales From The Crypt, and even Creepshow, Free Lunch Comics brings the spooky back in their new supernatural anthology series, Only In Whispers.
As a whole, Whispers is a book that really tries to deliver a full package. Perhaps taking the lead from books like Criminal or Mice Templar it offers more than just comics to pull readers in. It also contains a prose story, as well as a series of… I guess you could call them articles… recounting the real-life experiences of the creators in which they may have encountered the supernatural — followed by a note to readers that they’d like to hear more similar stories to include at the end of future installments. Overall, the book shows an admirable clarity of vision, and right off the bat, I’d say that alone is reason to check it out.
But how are the stories?
Well, I’ll tell you…
After the Serling-esque intro by the book’s humble host, Mr. Quiet, we are first given a cautionary tale entitled, “Entangled.” Written by Free Lunch publisher, Steve Kanaras (as are all but one of the stories in the book), this first offering gives us a pretty solid idea of the tone of the stories to follow. A writer finds a mysterious book which she hopes will be her ticket to financial prosperity, but instead puts her in the sights of a vengeful witch. It’s a cool premise, but the story never meets its potential. The narrative feels incomplete. It’s as though the first half of the story is nothing but a hasty set up for the creepiness to follow, and because of this, the finale suffers. There’s really nothing connecting you to the horror because you’re given nothing to make you care about any of the characters. It’s all superficial. Granted, the superficial…ness… of it… (superficiality…?) …The artwork is pretty. Artist Matt Ryan does a good job of visually communicating an otherwise jumbled story, and once it cuts to the grisly chase, he works the horror well. The final splash page of the story is effectively creepy and grotesque and offers a nice punctuation to the tale. I just wish the rest of the story had lived up to its ending.
Following this is the prose story, “The Quiet Wager,” and while there are still criticisms to be had here, this is probably my favorite of the Kanaras-written stories. A young mage by the name of Rico meets with an older, more experienced witch named Jane. The story is mostly a character piece, focussing on their interactions, with the older of the two bating the younger’s anger in order to prove he hasn’t got what it takes to practice the Craft. It culminates in a cameo (though it isn’t outright explained as such) by the book’s host, Mr. Quiet, as he subtly puts them both in their place, proving that he is, in fact, the master. The quality of the writing was a bit of a task to get through; there are plenty of overly fancy descriptions and not enough attention paid to clarity of the narration. A few times, I had to backtrack and reread parts to figure out who was speaking and what they were speaking about. Getting past this, though, what’s at the heart of the story is what really caught me. I liked seeing the two characters bounce off of each other, and the way that Mr. Quiet settles their debate in the end left me with a smile on my face.
Next up, we are served yet another cautionary tale, “One Nibble At A Time.” In this story, we find a relatively young man, aged and haggard by hardships which can be best explained by the opening narration: “I am Benjamin Phipps. I summoned a minor demon, and I am losing my soul.” In flashback, we are shown how this came about, pretty much cementing the theme that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The art that Stephanie O’Donnell contributes to this story is a bit sketchier than the rest, but that ends up working in the story’s favor, illustrating Benjamin’s memories with the simplicity of a naive mind.
(Was that last part a bit of a stretch? Sorry, Rod Serling’s voice keeps drifting into my head as I write this.)
In the end, “Nibble” is the strongest of Kanaras’ comic stories, though there still seems to be an ingredient missing. A lost opportunity that more pages might have allowed for.
The fourth tale, for a change, is one to inspire caution! In “The Conscript” we are taken back in time to 18th century Germany, to witness the plight of a Hessian magistrate who has fallen into debt with a local sorcerer. In a complete 180 from my assessment of the first story in this issue, “The Conscript” seems to be all interesting set-up followed by an utter WTF ending. Perhaps this is yet another story that would have been served by having more pages to play with, but as it stands, this is probably the most disappointing story in the issue purely because it was going so strong until the last page. It seemed like Kanaras was setting up something much more involving and then got to page 8 and realized, “Oh crap! Gotta end it here.” On the plus side, the art by Anthony Summey is clean and crisp, and fitting of the classical style of the story.
By now, one thing you begin to realize about this book is that they really have the visual side of it down. Everything from the story art to the logo design, to even the table of contents page, shows an attention to the visual presentation of the book that really pays off.
That becomes even more apparent in the final story of the issue. Written and drawn by Andrew Pollack, “The Wailing” is, by far, my favorite story in the book. Taking place in an antiquated setting, we find a family plagued by a banshee who haunts the men of each generation. As the matriarch of the family watches her son, the last of the bloodline, succumb to the banshee’s wail, she calls on a local occult practitioner to save his life. What’s great about this story is how it switches gears halfway through. It begins with the humans in the house, discussing the problem, and then, as Mr. Delacroix (the occultist) agrees to help, we transition to the woods outside the house, where the Banshee is accosted by Delacroix’s own monster, the WitchHound. Basically, taking a page from the Hellboy book of storytelling, the set-up leads us into a knock-down drag-out monster fight, and I love every second of it. The story ends with a “To be continued…” which is, I think, indicative of Pollack’s wisdom in telling his story. Rather than rush to a finish, he gives us a much more satisfying, well-paced, opening chapter. On top of this, the art just blew me away. At turns reminiscent of Mike Mignola and the darker works of Chris Bachalo, his use of hard shadow and the emotional renderings of the characters really captured me. (The center panel on page 34 may just be one of my favorite panels of all time.) Whether the story is going to be continued in the next issue, or if it is meant as a lead-in to Pollack’s own WitchHound series, it is definitely worth chasing down.
With the collection of true stories capping off the book — the best of which involves the exploration of an abandoned mental hospital — I have to say that despite my disappointment with a few of the shorts, this first issue left me with a good impression. I think a large part of that is owed to the decision to end on the WitchHound story, which is definitely the strongpoint of the book. Additionally, the unified theme leaves me to believe that there will be plenty of fun stuff to come in the future. I just hope that, if it is to continue being primarily written by Kanaras, he is able to learn from his mistakes and grow as a storyteller, as this is the biggest hurdle the book will have to overcome.
Flawed but entertaining, I give Only In Whispers #1 a B-.