The latest issue of the Dark Horse horror anthology series Shock Shop not only brings the two stories contained within the pages to a close, but the series as a whole. With two different stories left to wrap up, the book has to not only make sure it ends on a satisfying note, but that it does so twice.
The first story in the book, ‘Something In The Woods, In The Dark’ returns us to our group of friends out on a camping trip, who’ve found their weekend getaway turned into a nightmare as two horrific monsters slowly stalk and kill them from the shadows. After learning that the monsters are out there, the group have been trying to escape the woods and make it back to reality; but the monsters keep on coming, and they’re not just down to three.
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This issue opens with our three lone survivors trapped between both of the hulking beasts, with the two monsters ready to tear them apart. Willa and Clark, the two leads of the story, are the focus this issue, and Willa seems to come to a realisation about the monsters, claiming that she and her husband somehow made them, and that they’re some kind of manifestations of their issues. We got hints that something was wrong with their relationship in an earlier issue, but learn here that whilst Clark was in prison Willa slept with someone else. The resentment, anger, and guilt between them has turned into these creatures, and are killing the people they care about. According to Willa anyway.
And this is perhaps my biggest problem with this chapter of this story, and why this conclusion doesn’t really land well for me. We’ve only gotten hints at their issues until now, and the sudden revelation as to what went on in their past at the last moment doesn’t really land well. There’s not enough time to think about it, not enough time to reflect on how this has made them act with each other throughout the series. It feels like a last-minute revelation, rather than the basis for their entire story here. Especially if it is the reason for the monsters existing.
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And it is a big part of that. This is presented purely as a hypothetical. It’s one possibility. I’m not against writers keeping some mysteries, or allowing their audiences to come to their own decisions and make their own interpretations, but knowing where these things come from, why they’re doing what they’re doing, and if they are in fact a part of the relationship breakdown between the two leads feels like important information. Not learning the answers to that does leave the story feeling unfinished for me, and leads to a somewhat deflated ending.
The artwork on this particular story, by Danny Luckert is still wonderful to look at. The monsters are genuinely horrific, and the level of twisted detail and attention that’s been given to them makes them the standout visual pieces of the entire book. The monsters make you feel uncomfortable whenever they’re on the page, not because of what they are and what they do, but because of how Luckert has brought them to life.
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The second story, ‘Familiars’, fares a little better than the first when it comes to wrap-up. Readers very quickly get given answers as to what the mysterious invisible creatures have been, and why they’ve been doing what they’re doing. They’re not the focus of this chapter, with the relationship that Trevor has with his children and ex-wife being the centre of the story.
Out of the two stories in this series this has always been the one that’s more character focused, and that’s true here at the end too. Everything that happens, happens around Trevor, because of Trevor, and the final part of the story really pushes that theme. It’s because of his actions, even unknowingly, that people have died, and that his family are fighting for their lives against invisible monsters. The book doesn’t forget this, and keeps the theme going, with Trevor’s decisions dictating who will live or die come the end.
In previous issue this has been the half of the book that I’ve been least excited to read, but in this final issue it definitely sticks the landing better than its counterpart, and the result is that it ends up being the more satisfactory story out of the two. As with previous issues, the art is decent, and looks good, and Leila Lez and Bill Crabtree have done a good job, even if there are no moments that jump out as being spectacular or that will stick in my memory.
Shock Shop is a decent idea for a series, an anthology collection of horror tales introduced by a notable icon of the series. It’s a format that works, and has been done before multiple times with franchises like Tale From The Crypt and characters like Elvira. And it absolutely works in comic form. However, with this being the end of the series, with the book ending with both of its premier stories, it feels like a wasted format. I’d have liked to have seen it go on a bit more, with at least another story or two. It’s a shame that it ends up feeling like a series that was only given four issues instead of eight, so the stories were stripped down and thrown in together, rather than a true anthology title. Hopefully the series will return at some point in the future, and we’ll get more stories from it.
Shock Shop #4 is out now from Dark Horse.