With Halloween almost here it’s the perfect time to sit down with a scary comic or two, and whilst Scott Snyder‘s previous comic work has covered more monstrous and even cosmic horror, his latest series, Dark Spaces: Dungeon takes a much more human approach to the genre.
Dark Spaces: Dungeon is the latest series in writer Scott Snyder’s independent comic anthology title Dark Spaces. Previous stories have been used as showcases for up and coming artists, and for other writers who have worked on some of the titles alongside Snyder. This series, however, is penned solely by Snyder, and reunites him with artist Hayden Sherman, who worked with him on the first title, Dark Spaces: Wildfire.
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Each entry in the series has given readers something a little different, whether that be a heist story, or supernatural conspiracies; this time around things take a much darker turn as people become the monsters. The issue begins with a flashback of a small child climbing out of a hatch in the middle of a snow-covered forest, stumbling through the trees until he’s found by a truck driver. Years later we meet a nice, happy family who live in a huge house close to the same woods. When the father, Tyler, is out for a job and trips over the mysterious hatch he realises he’s found something strange, and calls the authorities.
Meanwhile, an odd, almost maverick FBI agent resolves a years long kidnapping case by shooting a mother in front of her children, saving their lives but scarring them forever. He’s sent to cover the case of the mysterious hatch, and reveals to Tyler that he was the child who escaped from it years ago, after being held prisoner inside an elaborately constructed torture chamber by one of the smartest, most prolific serial killers in the country. Now that the FBI have found the previously lost ‘dungeon’ the hunt for the killer is on, and the killer turns his sights on Tyler and his family.
Dark Spaces: Dungeon feels more like a psychological thriller and mystery story more than it does a horror, and whilst the ‘dungeon’ in which our heroic FBI agent was once held prisoner is a horrific device, it also feels slightly too fantastical to be real. A small chamber filled with extendable blocks, able to push and break a prisoner into awful shapes and contortions, the device is an interesting idea, but the idea that someone can be kept alive inside it for years, broken, healed, and re-broken over and over feels like a bit of a leap, and a hurdle that will shape how you feel about the book. The comic seems to want to be realistic, yet this part doesn’t; how you handle that will definitely determine how much you enjoy the book.
Outside of the central ‘horror’ conceit of the book, there are some interesting characters here. The family are given a lot of page space, and we spend a great deal of time with them getting to know them. Tyler seems like a decent, caring dad, and we get a long introduction to him as he spends a couple of pages getting his son to sleep at night, telling him weird facts and making up stories about his stuffed frog toy. He seems like a nice, if rather bland character.
FBI agent Madoc, on the other hand, is something of a loose cannon, and the scene with him and the child hostages shows that he’s willing to break the rules to do the right thing. The fact that he’s also a victim of The Keeper, as the call him, seems to be setting up for a man who’s likely going to go too far, and will do extreme things in order to get his revenge. It also feels like another small leap in logic that the FBI would assign the case to someone who was tortured for months by The Keeper to bring him in.
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The art on the book, by Hayden Sherman, with colours by Patricio Delpeche, feels very muted, and has an almost watercolour like quality to it. There are no real vivid bright colours, light shading, and very little bold lines or blocks of darkness that you’d expect to find in a horror title. Instead, things almost have a dream-like quality to them at times. Sadly, due to the slow nature of the story in this first issue there’s very little in the art to actually wow the reader, except for a full page splash that shows off what The Keeper is doing to another victim that’s shocking and dark, yet also highlights how odd the torture device is.
If you’re a fan of implausible psychological horrors, such as the later films in the Saw franchise where it became more about the weird devices than plausibility, Dark Spaces: Dungeon may appeal to you. But at this point the story seems to be happy to take things slow, to not give the reader much, and rely on the promise of better things to come, leading to a first issue that doesn’t really encourage you to try out issue two.
Dark Spaces: Dungeon is out now from IDW Publishing.