Writer: Josh Tierney (@jwtierney)
Publisher: Tapas (@Tapas_app)
WHAT IS IT?
An amnesiac college student must use a keyring filled with unmarked keys to help recover her missing memories. An unsettling, eerie trip down memory lane, Iris Complex is a tense and captivating mystery.
Think Mulholland Drive meets A Night in the Woods.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
A young woman wakes up in an empty field one afternoon surrounded by five buildings with no memory of who she is or how she got there. As she searches through a shoulder bag wrapped around her person, she finds a key ring holding five keys and an architectural studies textbook with a test tucked inside. The only clue to her identity is the name Iris written at the top of the paper.
Unsure of what else to do, she heads across the dry field toward the nearest building with the hope of someone inside recognizing her. The one-eyed landlady is cryptic and curt, noting that one of the keys may still work in the lock of a vacant apartment. With the hope of unlocking her memories, she steps into empty apartment number 904. What she finds inside, however, sets in motion a strange series of events and she realizes that the past she had forgotten might be too dangerous to remember.
Tierney’s writing captures the tension of the situation in a manner that is realistic, which only heightens the discomfort of both his heroine and the reader. The unease Iris feels is logical and the overall tone is haunting. There is an unmistakable purgatory, an almost rapturous sense that comes from the cryptic manner in which everyone speaks and acts that bleeds through the script in a prominent way.
Ribeiro’s artwork for the first eleven episodes balances a bright color palette with a grittiness to the cast that makes each of them memorable. The characters have a distinct style to them (both in looks and in their individual fashion) and the off-putting vacancy and distrust that shines through the illustrations is both bleak and paranoia-inducing.
Soliman takes up the mantle of illustrator at episode 12 with a seamless transition. Though the art does take on particular characteristics of her styling, the consistency is notable, and it will be exciting to see her artwork throughout the rest of the comic.
The settings and backgrounds are looming and ominous. There is an empty feeling to it all and the use of far-off perspectives make the environment in which Iris moves about come across as expansive and desolate. Many of the panels have hazy, out-of-focus backgrounds that add to the sweltering afternoon atmosphere.
A special note must be made for the overall symmetry and framing used in the series. The placement of corridors and characters are incredibly satisfying in an almost Wes Anderson styling. The attention to detail when it comes to placement is exceptional.
The lettering is perfect for the overall vibe of the webcomic. Everything is legible, the speech bubbles are sized appropriately for the contents within, and their borders are varied in style to emphasize the tone of the script. The intent of the speech is always clear and understandable.
The internal monologue is bordered with red so it has an eye-catching aspect to it. Since Iris’ journey is heavily narrated internally as she struggles with the loss of her identity, those dialogue pieces are essential and this small detail helps make them stand out.
The sound effects have a pop art, in-your-face design to them. With how empty and dreary the setting is, alongside how minimalistic the textures and shading are, the impact of the big, booming lettering enhances the tension in massive ways. Each bold, pounding sound effect echoes off of the silence filled landscape.
The use of daylight that is as harsh as a summer's day invokes the same discomfort with the horror elements, reminiscent of Midsommar, which enhances the scare factor by undermining the safety one feels in the sunlight.
Episodes 7 and 8 have an anxiety-inducing, heart-racing moment that is downright terrifying in an incredibly simplistic way. The build of Iris’ anxiety is heightened from panel to panel, and the execution is flawless. It is one of the most unsettling scenes I have seen in a long time and I can only hope that we see more of it in the coming episodes.
The use of repeated scenes with small changes feels cinematic and is an excellent design choice to build tension as Iris moves about locations without going overboard or being in your face. You can feel the sense of movement and it leaves you white-knuckling your device wondering what will appear in the next panel.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
CW: Strong language, disturbing imagery, use of cigarettes, and scenes with excessive blood.
At the current moment, the episodes are a bit on the short side. A lot is packed into each episode, but they are quick reads. This is not uncommon for newer series but it is easy to blow through them.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
A recent exclusive from Tapas, Iris Complex is a haunting mystery that sets the bar high early on in its narrative. Dropping readers into Iris’ journey right as she wakes up in a world filled with bright colors and daylight overwhelms with the sense that something isn’t right from moment one. The story forces the reader to be on guard and trust no one, and with an unreliable narrator leading the way, every step taken feels more tense than the last. It’s a powerful and creepy tale that has only just begun to unravel itself.
Inspired by a return trip to the town he grew up in with an expectation of a surge of nostalgia, only to feel quite little instead, Tierney channels the sense of emptiness one often experiences when realizing the places and faces of your childhood continued to move on without you. This sensation is shared by readers as they watch the confused heroine move about the hauntingly empty setting.
Iris’ self-aware awkwardness and loss of identity, alongside a strange setting filled with stranger people and horrific sights, make each episode rife with intrigue (as if every panel adds another question with answers that refuse to show themselves). It is horrifying in the best way, unsettling and creepy, with monumentally memorable settings and characters. Though only a handful of episodes have currently been released, Iris Complex has already proven itself to be a mystery that you won’t want to miss.
HOW DO I READ IT?
The image(s) used in this article are from a comic strip, webcomic or the cover or interior of a comic book. The copyright for this image(s) is likely owned by either the publisher of the comic, the writer(s) and/or artist(s) who produced the comic. It is believed that the use of this image(s) qualifies as fair use under the United States copyright law. The image is used in a limited fashion in an educational manner in order to illustrate the points of the author and not for the purpose of entertainment or substituting the original work. It is believed the use of this image has had no impact on the market value of the original work.
All Tierney/Ribeiro characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are trademarks of and copyright Tierney/Ribeiro or their respective owners. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED