PHANTOM ON THE SCAN, ISSUE #1
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Illustrator: Mark Torres
WHAT IS IT?
Everything is not what it seems in this psychological horror comic exploring power, psychics, and spirits.
Scanners meets The Shining in a frightening comic about psychic abilities and haunting ghosts.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Two decades ago, a comet fell to Earth and granted powers to certain individuals -- psychic powers. On that same night, a young boy drowned, but his spirit remains. The spirit of this child haunts one of the comet-afflicted psychics named Matthew, who possesses phenomenal -- and multiple -- psychic abilities. Unfortunately, every time Matthew uses his powers, the dead child spirit fades further away.
While attending a therapy session with his doubting doctor, the spirit pushes Matthew to extract information from his doctor. The doctor reveals the names of several others who utilize their psychic abilities. What does the child want with the other psychics? And why does so much death surround those inhabited with psychic powers?
Cullen Bunn knows how to write horror that spikes your psychological response to imagined danger. Where Phantom on the Scan excels beyond the terror is in Bunn's ability to undercut fright with an appeal to the emotional pathos of tragedy his characters undergo.
Mark Torres and Cullen Bunn steadily remain on the unspoken throne as the dynamic duo in the comic horror genre. Torres capitalizes on the eerie ambiance of Bunn's narrative through vintage, turbid illustrations to haunt your dreams.
Torres runs double-duty as both the penciler/inker and the colorist. Torres unites the creepy tone of Bunn's sparse dialogue with a dismal color scheme and crosshatched shadows accenting the isolation of protagonist Matthew.
Dave Sharpe allows his lettering to make a personal statement about the existence of each character. Sharpe employs faded speech balloons and dialogue for Matthew's spectral spirit friend, aligning with the spirit's fading survival.
'Haunted' is a word often coupled with horror story themes, and Phantom on the Scan reaches the zenith of haunting horror. Aside from the art -- which is truly a viscerally haunting feat in itself -- the concept of being "haunted" resonates within the larger scope of the narrative. The comic shows how the main character and other psychics are haunted daily, by their memories or inaptitude to stop the death paralleled with their abilities.
Wide-shot panels in Matthew's barren apartment convulse with an isolating atmosphere. Different wide-shots throughout the comic sharply call back to the theme of trauma in isolation.
Torres captures the comics' supernatural essence through almost VCR-like pencilled-imagery. Each panel radiates a spooky and unsettling energy.
Another artistic praise belongs to Torres for his depiction of the spirit child haunting Matthew. The child manifests as partially formed, but never corporeal. Dual dark tones of magenta and green glow against shadows with charcoal-medium textures. White specks represent the fading child's eyes in a nearly body-horror-like manner.
Dave Sharpe flaunts his lettering techniques in two back-to-back pages brimming with various SFX styles. Layering speech bubbles crowded together come across as almost sadistically anxiety-inducing, building up to a cinematic display of illustrated viscera and disturbing SFX.
Mark Torres crafted a music soundtrack to accompany each issue of Phantom on the Scan. The constant hi-hat-sounding beat pulses along with a few synthesized notes in the first track, creating an audio-visual synergy to amp up the moodiness of the first issue. Music induces a psychological response and I am a new fan of this recent uptick in trans-media for comics.
Phantom on the Scan #1 leans on a lot of suggestion. Character motivations, the reasons behind gaining these psychic abilities, and even the artistic rendering of the spirit child all suggest ideas without fully explaining them. Though the lack of clarity can be confusing, the power of suggestion is what will keep readers coming back to this comic.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
The synopsis information for this first issue frankly succeeds in describing the comet plot-line better than its portrayal in the comic itself. Phantom on the Scan leans hard into the "ethereal," making some plot elements quite mystifying during a first read-through.
The art is gorgeous, but minor additional dialogue/description about the nature of the psychic powers or the comet itself would have removed some narrative confusion created through primarily relying on the art to tell the story.
At the end of the comic, backup pages reveal the involvement of a mysterious experimental testing place called Trellux Institute. More insight into the mystery of the story is alluded to with these pages, but they don't really expand upon the important personal conflicts introduced that required more emotional depth.
Content Warning: Gruesome depictions of death abound in this horror story. Psychic power usage, manipulation, and eerie imagery make Phantom on the Scan a mature read.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Cullen Bunn has proven himself a heavyweight champion in the horror genre comics industry. Phantom on the Scan #1 integrates the horror elements Bunn weaves so masterfully and adds frightening new dimensions of terror. This first issue may not be a narratively perfect entry to the story, but your sense of intrigue will surely be prodded. Affix Mark Torres to any horror project, and his art synthesizes with the story sublimely.
Phantom on the Scan #1 investigates the supernatural, but also distinctly human elements of life like trauma, isolation, and the toll of great power expenditure. Reading this issue feels almost like ingesting a hallucinogen. Each page is thrilling. Experience the fear of the characters and your own tangible fear reading Phantom on the Scan, allowing Torres' auxiliary soundtrack to foist added spookiness into your brain.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Bone Parish by Cullen Bunn & Jonas Scharf
Blossoms: 666 by Cullen Bunn, Laura Braga, Matt Herms, & Jack Morelli
Miskatonic by Mark Sable & Giorgio Pontrelli
If you like the art:
Cold Spots by Cullen Bunn & Mark Torres
Richard Matheson: Master of Terror Graphic Novel Collection by Ted Adams, Ian Edginton, Steve Niles, Chris Ryall, Elman Brown, Simon Fraser, Rafa Garres, Sam Shearon, & Mark Torres
Knock 'Em Dead by Eliot Rahal & Mattia Monaco
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Cullen Bunn – Writer (@cullenbunn)
Name Recognition: Cullen is a comics writer, screenwriter, novelist, and short story writer, well known for his work in the horror genre. He has written for major comic publications such as Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Oni Press, and many more.
He is the NYT bestselling writer of Dark Ark, The 6th Gun, Harrow County, and Bone Parish.
Multitalented: Cullen has had many jobs including an Alien Autopsy Specialist, Rodeo Clown, Professional Wrestler Manager, Career Consultant, Product and Project Manager, and Director of Marketing. He was also once the world's youngest hypnotist.
Mark Torres – Illustrator (@towersmarked)
Mark is a Manila-based graphic designer and illustrator. He has worked with American Gothic Press/Famous Monsters, Clive Barker, Dark Horse, Heavy Metal, IDW Publishing, and now, AfterShock Comics.
Dream Team: He illustrated and created the companion soundtrack for Cullen Bunn's Cold Spots horror comic series.
Music Lover: Mark has a passion for both comics and music. He combined these interests by creating soundtrack accompaniments for comics Phantom on the Scan and Cold Spots. You can find his music on Band Camp here.
Dave Sharpe – Letterer (@daveLsharpe)
Dave attended and graduated from the Joe Kubert school in 1990. Immediately following graduation, he went to work at Marvel comics as an in-house, letterer.
Prolific: He has lettered hundreds of Marvel comics, like Spider-Girl, Exiles, She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, and The Defenders. He has been lettering for DC since 2009.
Music Lover: Dave plays metal bass guitar!
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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 Phantom on the Scan #1 characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are trademarks of and copyright Cullen Bunn, Mark Torres, AfterShock Comics, or their respective owners. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED