THIS REVIEW OF ‘BACKSTAGERS HALLOWEEN INTERMISSION’ #1 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Clyde Hall. Magic is inherent to theater, and always has been. The spell is collaborative, invoked by everyone involved, from playwright to dramatist, musician to audience member. All are aware that they truck in the supernatural; if you doubt it, consider the litany of theater superstitions. Break a leg, but be sure to refer to Macbeth as “The Scottish Play” when you’re in the performing hall lest misfortune befall the production.
When the spell is cast well, it transcends our common reality and invokes a better one, or a more thoughtful one, or a more nightmarish one. Stagehands, property masters, set designers, and all those laboring in the strata just below the limelight play an integral part in the enchantment. They tend the cauldrons and keep the crucibles primed, blending elements of light, sound, and illusion together to create stage magic.
It makes sense that Halloween carries its own special power when it comes to the stage, and that Backstagers have a reserved box seat to experience it. They regularly dabble in the mystic undercurrent of their theater, after all. In Backstagers Halloween Intermission #1, series co-creators James Tynion IV and Rian Sygh provide the main story alongside colorist Waler Baiamonte and letterer Jim Campbell. It’s about the most terrifying night of the year inside St. Genesius Prepatory High School’s auditorium, and a legendary recurring monster is treading the boards. This fearful creature is always present, ever waiting in the wings to afflict any who perform there. All Hallows Eve affords it a starring role. The story’s also about facing those fears, and the wisdom of a little character named Sasha. Sasha knows how to deal with dread, and it’s a lesson we can all take to heart.
The shorter back-up entries comprising the anthology are stagecraft rules turned into creepy cautionary tales, beginning with “Greased Frightening” from writer Sam Johns, illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau, and lettered by Jim Campbell. The Deadline Demon haunts us all, but especially those in the creative arts. Fortunately, there are Guardian Spirits to temper the perils of procrastination.
“Fright Lights” by Johns, Campbell, and illustrated by Shan Murphy sings the praises of teamwork and ample illumination to keep those creeping and crawling Production Doom shadows in check.
The final story, “Fright of the Living Tool Rats”, shows what happens when mistakes complicated by fibs unleash a horde of truth on the stage crew. It’s brought to life by Johns, with art and letters by Abby Howard, and colors by Baiamonte.
Backstagers charm is in full effect here, and lessons abound. This combination, tempered with a spoopy turn for the season, works well and fits the tradition of most Halloween fare. Aren’t the best horror comics stories the ones that illustrate why coveting another’s riches or fame can end up being a very, very Infernal Thing? Or why honesty isn’t just the best policy, it can be a way to avoid visitations by the revenant of Abe Lincoln? How raising a buddy from the dead, for fun or profit, can take a southbound turn quickly?
The Backstagers Halloween Intermission entertains, but so can any reasonably produced title in any genre. Simply adopt an eerie style for one issue and rely on the All Hallows theme to cash in with a disposable bit of fun. They can even diverge from the ongoing narrative of a book and find acceptance, owing to the spirit of the season. Rarer are crafted, connected, and continuing works such as The Long Halloween, where the holiday is an active component of the story rather than a transitory aside. In which effort is made to elevate the material above diversion and into something made special thanks to that season. Yet, Backstagers belongs more to that good company of publications than to the previous example. They’ve holiday Intermission-ed before, with a Valentine’s volume last February. No doubt they will holiday Intermission again.
And they should, for theirs is a nearly perfect formula of celebration and substance. Tynion IV, Sygh, and this creative ensemble appropriately go beyond the expected with these YA Tales of the Unexpected. They keep the spoop but with a morality nougat applicable to anyone considering a future in the arts. The first story speaks of the telltale Heart of the Stage, the driving desire to perform, and the ethos which should channel such hunger. The subsequent back-ups never lose sight of valid stagecraft principles buried beneath the festive “Boo!” The lessons they teach have value, in the arts and in everyday life.
BOOM! Box/BOOM! Studios/$7.99
Written by James Tynion IV and Sam Johns.
Art by Rian Sygh, Savanna Ganucheau, Shan Murphy, and Abby Howard.
Colors by Walter Baiamonte, Savanna Ganucheau, and Shan Murphy.
Letters by Jim Campbell and Abby Howard.
8.5 out of 10