Hailstone / Dead Mall – Dark Horse Comics

Dark Horse have a lot of new books out this week, with a variety of titles on offer.  We take a look at two titles with a distinctly sinister vibe to them. Contains spoilers!


Hailstone, written by Rafael Scavone, with art by Rafael de Latorre and Wesllei Manoel, takes readers back in time to a small Montana town in the 1860s, where a long winter has set in, making life hard for the residents. Not only do the people of Hailstone have to deal with a lack of food, they also have to look on as the soldiers in the nearby munitions and equipment factory set up just outside town are well taken care of. Added to this, a rash of disappearances has begun. Some in the town suspect that the nearby Niitsitapi people (members of the Blackfoot Nation) are responsible for the lost townsfolk, and tensions are mounting.

When a young woman vanishes when out foraging for food, the sheriff, Denton Ross, and his half Niitsitapi deputy Tobias head out into the frozen woods to try to find signs of the missing girl. However, when something mysterious appears and saves them from a pack of wolves attacking the search party, Denton begins to suspect that something unusual is going on around Hailstone. Haunted by the disappearance of his own son, Denton is determined to seek out the truth, no matter what.

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As soon as you pick it up it’s clear that Hailstone is a book wreathed in atmosphere. The eerie yet beautiful cover image of Denton Ross on horseback in the desolate, snow covered forest, his face obscured in shadow as his breath fogs in front of him, is stunning, and beautifully establishes the look and feel of the book. This is a book that’s dark in tone, yet bright in how it looks. The pages are filled with the snow covered Montana backdrop, and white is used frequently throughout; yet despite this the book feels oppressive and tense the entire time.

Rafael Scavone sets this tone well early on, with the opening scene of the book depicting a young woman, barely more than a girl, out in the frozen forest searching for anything that can provide enough sustenance to keep her and her family alive during the cold months. The sense of isolation, the desperation of having to scavenge for pine cones because there’s nothing else left to eat, makes the scene feel dour despite the smiles on the character’s faces. This is the only real moment of joy in the book, and from here on out the sense of despair and tension will only mount as Denton and Tobias search for answers. The fact that the soldiers just outside of town refuse to help, and their commanding officer doesn’t even seem to care, adds to this feeling of hopelessness, like Denton is raging against the inevitable.

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This is where the horror of the book comes in, the feeling of being unable to do anything. It’s clear that Denton and Tobias are men used to helping their community, who try to do the best they can for the people they’re sworn to protect, and that being unable to solve this issue causes them deep distress. It’s a feeling that I think most readers will be familiar with, that sense that no matter what you do you can’t win, and seeing it here, worming its way through this mystery, makes this an uneasy read at times.

Hailstone also does a decent job at subverting expectations. The book felt like it was telling me a story I’d seen before, and I started to anticipate the eventual conclusion and revelations. But I think it knew that it was hitting a lot of horror conventions, and did so as a way of surprising me when the story went off in an unexpected direction. It’s not impossible to figure out the answers before they’re revealed, but Hailstone at least tries to get you to guess wrong a time or two, and it makes the eventual conclusion that much more surprising and satisfying.

Hailstone is out now from Dark Horse.

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Dead Mall

Dead Mall, written by Adam Cesare, feels like the kind of story that a group of friends would tell each other whilst gathered around a fire at night in a place that they shouldn’t be in – out in a creepy woods, or exploring some long abandoned building. It’s the kind of twisted tale made to get you looking over your shoulder to make sure that there’s nothing creeping up behind you.

Our story begins as a group of teenage friends break their way into the Penn Mills Galleria, an old shopping mall that’s been left abandoned and alone. Once a thriving heart of the community, it stands quiet and empty – or at least it appears to. As the group of five teens make their way into the old building and begin their night of drinking and fun, an invisible narrator follows their actions, providing a commentary and trying to gain insight onto their personalities. At first you think that it’s someone inside the building watching them, that it’s one of the shadowy figures lurking in the backgrounds of panels, but after a while it becomes clear that the narrator is the mall itself.

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It turns out that Dead Mall isn’t a story about something or someone awful lurking inside an old building, but of a building come to life, twisted by bizarre, cosmic powers into a nightmare location. And the teens soon learn this themselves as the building shifts around them, trying to separate them, trying to herd them where it wants. Unfortunately for the teens, the mall is also home to twisted, monstrous creatures that were once lured in like them, now hunting them through the halls and abandoned stores. Now the group will have to try to find a way out before they’re killed, or before they become more of the mall’s residents.

One of the best ways that I can perhaps describe Dead Mall would be the sifting changing reality of a nightmare, mixed with Hellraiser. Instead of a puzzle box, however, the mall itself is the conduit, the thing that summons nightmarish beings, and transforms those it captures. The creatures that inhabit Penn Mills Galleria are very twisted, and some of them could easily be lifted from the page and dropped into a Hellraiser movie with little to no changes to their designs and fit right in. And these similarities mean that the weirdness of the story is easy to digest, because it’s a concept that’s familiar. Getting on board with the concept is done quickly, and you’re then able to delve into the details that make the story its own unique entity.

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David Stoll’s artwork for Dead Mall is really superb stuff. For the most part the book feels very normal. The characters have nice clear styles and personalities presented through their looks, the environments feel familiar to anyone who’s ever been to a shopping mall, and everything is neat and tidy. It’s when the building begins to shift and change, moving through the decades, that things begin to feel unsettling, and the first time you see one of the twisted creatures that lives there is a truly shocking moment. The creature designs are a stand out part of the book, with some of them having a very twisted kind of beauty to them.

Dead Mall was a surprisingly fun and twisted read, with a story that wasn’t afraid to take a familiar concept and take it in some interesting new directions and just have a blast doing it. If you’re a fan of bizarre, almost disturbing cosmic style horror there’s going to be a lot to this book that will appeal to you.

Dead Mall is out now from Dark Horse.

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