Writer: Tim Daniel & Michael Moreci Art: Joshua Hixson Publisher: Vault Comics
WHAT IS IT?
A haunting tale about a family with a history of mental illness, an old mansion, and a man who has to deal with the fallout of both.
It's very much like The Haunting of Hill House and its many interpretations and iterations in the media, but it's also very much its own thing, as well.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Chase Blaine's entire life changes after his brother and sister-in-law are murdered. Now a guardian and father figure to a niece and nephew he barely knows, he has to go back to the decaying family home left to him, just to have enough room to raise two kids.
But there seems to be a lot of resentment and unresolved issues entrenched in Chase Blaine's life, as well as his family and the old house he seems more eager to destroy than move into. And it seems likely that this is just the beginning of Chase's problems.
The first page sets up the recurring theme for the issue, and probably for the title. In fact, it seems central to the plot (unintentional pun), though it's much too soon to say exactly how.
The "show, don't tell" method is used well in THE PLOT. While there is still a good amount of information conveyed through captions and dialogue, Joshua Hixson conveys so much raw emotion in his art. At times delicate and detailed and other times coarse and intentionally imperfect (further brought to life by Jordan Boyd's moody, textured color work), we understand how little respect Chase has for the empty mansion and how little he wants to be there.
Everyone on this book is operating at such a high level, and every page's planning is meticulously placed and intentional. "Orchestrated" would probably be the best way to describe it, since it feels like everyone is playing their own instrument but making music that's greater than the sum of its parts. For example, in the beginning of the issue, there's a juxtaposition of the narration's “giving was a means of” with the action of Chase kicking a door down, then the caption concluding with “unburdening.” You get it. The concept of giving seems good and gentle, but that kick turns it on its head while also showing us what Chase thinks of his father and his family legacy. The writing and the art work together to make that happen, and the captions are perfectly placed for the sequence of narration and actions to convey a vast amount of abstract information and emotion in very little time and space.
It's interesting that the mental illness gets passed on through the family's paternal line, and how the book makes it clear that's the case. I know Michael Moreci said the story is "more intimately personal" and that it explores "some of my own life and family on the page," so this theme could originate from his own history (or, who knows, partially from co-writer Tim Daniel's, as well). But the concept of damaged white males being raised to take their trauma and mental illness out on others generation after generation also works as social commentary, at least for American culture. We'll see, as the book goes on, if we can continue to make a case for that interpretation, but it's something to think about.
I really enjoy Jim Campbell's lettering work in this. He emphasizes words without overdoing it, just enough to give them life and add a little drama. In one place, Campbell uses the lettering not only to establish the tone, but to distract from the art just long enough to build up the comic equivalent of a slow, terrifying reveal.
Hixson draws the sound effects into the art, for great effect. In one scene, he uses big and bold and incessant phone ringing sound effects to walk us through the mostly empty house. And you hear it, and you imagine it playing out in your mind. The way that scene is delivered is jarring and masterful and the way it goes from there is unexpected, developing character and story at the same time – a sign of Moreci's great talents, as well.
Hixson's panels can be brutal, but they can also be so beautiful, you almost can't believe the violence would be possible. Sometimes, the art is more metaphorical — it builds drama and uses the medium in a way that wouldn't work in TV or film. In others, they do double-duty. For example, there's a scene where a character breaks through a wall. It catches the eye with its unique perspective and violent tone while also conveying that character's feelings toward the house and making a good segway for talking about his career.
Jordan Boyd's use of changing background colors go far to define the changing tone of a scene.
There's a noose that makes an appearance in one scene, and I'd love to know if we'll get more information about it. However, even if we don't, it's another great example of conveying a lot of information with very little time or space spent on it.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK?
I got nothin'. THE PLOT is perfectly executed horror. But the "horror" within and what people view as a successful horror story can be deeply personal, more so in this genre than any other, so just because it pushes all my buttons doesn't necessarily mean it'll be your new favorite horror story.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
While each and every title from Vault Comics tends to be remarkable, THE PLOT instantly feels award-worthy, like a timeless classic. Like everything you love about the horror genre encased in amber and set on your doorstep by a stranger.
There's an electric current to it, like there's a powder keg of violence and emotion just beneath the surface, ready to explode. There's obviously a lot of the past that isn't water under the bridge for these characters, and it's likely to turn into a flood in the coming chapters.
If you like stories about haunted houses, haunted families, and broken humans, I see THE PLOT in your future.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Curse by Moreci, Daniel Rossmo, & Lorimer
Wasted Space, Vol. 1 by Michael Moreci & Hayden Sherman
Fissure by Tim Daniel & Patricio Delpeche
If you like the art:
Shanghai Red by Christopher Sebela & Joshua Hixson
Invisible Republic by Corinna Bechko, Gabriel Hardman & Gabriel Hardman
Gideon Falls by Jeff Lemire & Andrea Sorrentino
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Michael Moreci – Co-writer
Inspired by space operas like Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy, and often writes epic sci-fi stories
Many of his other works are currently in production for film or TV
Multitalented: Also recently published his novel follow-up to Black Star Renegades, We Are Mayhem
Tim Daniel – Co-writer & Designer
Multitalented: Also was the writer on Fissure
Inspired by others in the business: Sonia Harris, Sean Phillips, and Fonographics
Dream Team: Also co-wrote Curse and Burning Fields with Michael Moreci
Joshua Hixson – Illustrator
Also works as an illustrator for Kannibalen Records
Jordan Boyd – Colorist
Also really enjoys Dungeons & Dragons, which makes sense, since he's a Dungeon Master
Jim Campbell – Letterer
Outlander: Hails from the United Kingdom
Multitalented: Also enjoys the art side of the creative world
Prolific: Has done lettering for a large number of hit titles
Adrian F. Wassel – Editor
Name Recognition: Is the CCO & Editor In Chief of Vault Comics, and plays the role of editor on most, if not all, of Vault's titles
Also runs Vault with his brother and father
Multitalented: Co-wrote Alien Bounty Hunter with David M. Booher
HOW DO I BUY IT?
THE PLOT #1 drops next Wednesday. Click one of these to pre-order it:
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