Writer: Matthew Wilding
Illustrator: Matt Rowe
Publisher: Sequential Decay
WHAT IS IT?
A horror one-shot that examines how triggered memories can create an inescapable terrain of mental torment. Dreams and demons threaten a man's reality in this terrifying thriller.
This 24-page story thrusts its protagonist into a surrealist Twilight Zone narrative where he meets his Nightmare On Elm Street dream villain.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Alex, a middle-aged divorcee, cannot shake the idea that a man eating a scone and reading a newspaper in his local coffee shop is the same entity that plagued his nightmares as a child. His therapist believes Alex is mentally manifesting his dreams into his reality as a result of vulnerability from his recent divorce.
After relating the traumatic childhood nightmares inflicted by the Nightmare Man, Alex's therapist encourages him to confront the café doppelganger in person to alleviate his worries. Alex complies the next day, finally approaching the mysterious boogieman sipping coffee. But, when the time comes, Alex finds himself face to face with his worst fears . . . and greatest nightmare.
Psychological horror works best when infused with a relatable protagonist. Matthew Wilding achieves this manipulative fright, using an everyman protagonist burnt out on adulthood's trials as an unreliable narrator.
Right from the first page, Wilding establishes a sympathetic narrative voice for Alex. Alex's indelible belief that something is amiss in his otherwise mundane life immediately draws you into the story.
Matt Rowe uses gravelly lines to shade Alex where the Nightmare Man is given bold, sharp features and coloring. This purposeful artistry creates an impeccable contrast between the characters.
The second page sets the twisted tone for the rest of the story. Rowe surrounds Alex by his horrific nightmares on the page, using dark reds and black in a stunning visual display of terror.
Neither Wilding nor Rowe hold back in describing and depicting Alex's disturbing -- and disgusting -- nightmares to forge the theme of fear.
The Nightmare Man's conversational dialogue feels satisfyingly original and produces levity for a dreadful villain that haunts children's nightmares to satiate himself. It takes a special skill set to craft a captivating antagonist like the Nightmare Man.
Wilding's dialogue creates a dynamic between Alex and the Nightmare Man that is brilliantly effective in its wit.
The panel layout changes often to accurately reflect the changing settings and flashbacks.
There's a sense of magical realism permeating Nightmare Man, addressing psychological themes without ridiculing mental illness.
Rowe's art continually astonishes, as his ability to immerse the reader in a harrowing atmosphere succeeds in every panel.
The slow burn of the narrative pays off in an unexpected ending that will leave you stunned.
The backup short story, "Little Things," is an additional gem that amplifies that feeling of unease in the horror genre.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
Frightening imagery and frequent profanity may deter readers who try to avoid that type of content.
Horror doesn't work for everyone, especially when the narrative relies on thematic uncertainty.
The lengthy conversation between Alex and the Nightmare Man loses some of its tension when nearly every one of Alex's questions receives an answer. The dialogue drags somewhat near the end, due to the slightly excessive amount of explanation given.
Because of the lengthy dialogue, some panels feel overly stuffed with speech balloons that could have been broken up into separate panels.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Nightmare Man could easily contend with popular Vault or Vertigo horror titles. Wilding emulates the tension in cult-classic horror films, interspersing this comic with erratic jump-scares at unsuspecting moments. Artist Matt Rowe builds on this cautious dialogue, blasting sporadic pages with body horror and vibrant visual panic. The narrative oscillates between chauffeuring you on a casual ride and then throwing you into the driver's seat without warning.
On top of all its ardent intensity, Nightmare Man employs an undercurrent of gallows humor. There's moments of unrestrained fright mixed with cheeky, earnest dialogue. Nightmare Man is an eclectic horror story with propulsive energy that bursts through the pages. After reading this comic, you might find yourself remembering the Nightmare Man the next time you spot a shoulder-length, black-haired man sporting a biker jacket in a coffee shop.
HOW DO I BUY IT?
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All Nightmare Man characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are trademarks of Matthew Wilding and Matt Rowe or their respective owners. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED