Writer: Zac Thompson Art: Arjuna Susini Publisher: Aftershock Comics
WHAT IS IT?
A self-contained, family-oriented, possession(ish)-style horror comic based on the writer's life.
The way it's served up reminds me a little of the movie, Frailty, mixed with more classic horror tropes and viewed through a 1995 lens.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Marcus's family doesn’t have a lot of money, but they seem pretty happy. Happy enough. They're what many would call a "normal, nuclear family" – a dad, a mom, a boy and a girl.
They go to church, and talk about their lives over dinner. Marcus takes part in small conspiracies with his dad that they hide from the other half of the family. One of those, they do the night that they skip out on church: they watch Godzilla.
But when Marcus's father has something resembling a stroke, Marcus sees something that will haunt him forever. But, even terrified, Marcus is ready to do whatever it takes to get back the father he knows and loves...even if no one else believes him.
The cover, shown above, is absolutely incredible, capturing that classic "VHS rental box" look perfectly
Other aspects of the comic do well to remind us the story takes place in the mid-'90s, like Marshall Dillon's caption style and how it looks like the fonts used in old video camera footage, or the tube television and model spaceship hanging from the ceiling.
Similarly, Zac Thompson is a man after my own heart, with his mentions of Panzer Dragoon on Sega Saturn and the X-Men Animated Series.
At 64 pages, the storytelling is extremely tight in this graphic novella, while still making sure to include time to breathe and take it all in.
The devil is in the details with Arjuna Susini's work. He says so much without big, flashing arrows drawing attention to it, like showing the entirety of a drive through the window reflection in three similar panels.
Susini's monster is so terrifying and grotesque, and it creates such a contrast with the beautiful moments, like seeing light shining through a stained glass window.
Dee Cunniffe's colors, working in tandem with Susini's pacing, is the equivalent of creepy sound editing for comics. There's an electric feeling of danger in those dark moments. Switching from warm colors with all the lights on, to cold darkness and things being very obviously wrong terrifyingly portray a universal childhood fear. Using a splash page to initially reveal the monster, then, later using an evenly paced zoom into black to reveal it. Using page turns as sort of jump scares. The two work really well together to elevate the horror.
Cunniffe's wallpaper designs bring a new layer of personality to the house. It's a fantastic touch.
When the monster is present, it takes over the scene. The terror is palpable, and you feel like there's no escape.
Beyond the horror that comes with the monster, there's this secondary horror when the mother is briefing the kids on how to care for their disabled father. It's so tangible, you can feel it, mixed up with the feeling of loss and injustice and grief and guilt and that feeling of the father not being the same person he was before.
Zac Thompson hits those classic horror hallmarks: starting off with a fairly normal life, introducing the haunt, bad things happen and the protagonist researches how to fight it, worse things happen, spirituality enters the picture more strongly, we reach the crisis, get our big finish and then the resolution. It's what happens in between these hallmarks, however, that makes The Replacer truly unique and filled with heart and truth.
It's an honest exploration of disability and its effect on everyone in a family.
I always think it's interesting when Catholics, extremely religious believers of all things Biblical, refuse to believe in demons or demonic possession.
The end scenes are so tense and dramatically lit! Also, it's written well, able to be interpreted in a couple different ways (as mentioned throughout this review).
WHAT DOESN'T WORK?
While the ending wasn't necessarily what I was expecting (which is good), I also am not sure I quite understand how we got there, or at least, the implications around it. Maybe I'm just thinking about it too hard. I do like that it can work for a literal or figurative interpretation, if I'm reading into it correctly.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
While The Replacer feels like a traditional horror story in many ways, it's also a nuanced tale of of grief and loss through the point of view of a young boy.
The Replacer works as a straight-up horror story, building to a resolution through traditional genre means. But it also works from a metaphorical standpoint. Maybe the boy isn't the only one who has it figured out. Maybe he's just so young, this is how his grief manifests.
It's such a well done and heartfelt play on the idea of possession. Fans of horror and thoughtfully created comics alike will love it.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Her Infernal Descent by Lonnie Nadler, Zac Thompson & Kyle Charles
Gideon Falls by Jeff Lemire & Andrea Sorrentino
Winnebago Graveyard by Steve Niles, Alison Sampson & Stephanie Paitreau
If you like the art:
Made Men by Paul Tobin & Arjuna Susini
Sweet Heart by Dillon Gilbertson & Francesco Iaquinta
Cold Spots by Cullen Bunn & Mark Torres
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Zac Thompson – Writer
Based the concept of this story on his own life's experiences. Read more about it here.
Dream Team: Often writes as a team with Lonnie Nadler, though it makes sense why he'd go solo for this very personal story
Outlander: Hails from Vancouver, Canada
Arjuna Susini – Illustrator
Outlander: Lives in Italy
Most of his work is done through traditional means, but he also has some experience with digital art
Dee Cunniffe – Colorist
Is openly opposed to Move the Needle, Bounding Into Comics and other hateful entities aligned with #Comicsgate
Outlander: Lives in Ireland
One the Rise: Has been on higher and higher profile comics within the past few years, probably because he's a fantastic colorist
Marshall Dillon – Letterer
Test of Time: Has been working in comics for over 25 years
Multitalented: Has done most comic industry jobs except for drawing a comic
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