THIS REVIEW OF ‘CULT CLASSIC: CREATURE FEATURE’ #1 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Clyde Hall. The doings of scaly, slimy monsters are predicated by monstrous people. Humans behaving badly are like roadies for the horror shows to follow. It’s a truth and a trope played with peals of theremin zeal in Vault Comics’ Cult Classic continuation, Creature Feature #1.
The strange goings-on chronicled by Eliot Rahal are fit for the same Everwhen where dwells Napoleon Dynamite, Pedro, and Deb. It’s happening now; the smartphones prove it. Yet certain anachronisms fuse the narrative with earlier times. Unless C.B. radios have made a comeback among high school kids, and unless local television stations still have horror hosts and weekly Shock Theater offerings. (Svengoolie’s enjoying his 40th year as the Keeper of Cinematic Spookery and there are others, but they are exceptions. Most are no longer in strictly ‘broadcast’ business, doing their schticks online.)
Rahal works those trimmings of nostalgia with gusto and provides consistency with an equally ambiguous location. King Lake, near the town of Whisper, could lie in any part of the United States. Sixty-five million years ago, it was the scene of an extraterrestrial visit. Saucer occupants saw fit to dump a nasty payload into the swampy wading pool of dinosaurs and quickly depart.
Fast forward to the previously mentioned and twitchy “now”, a world where humans have evolved to be the ones who excel at dumping nasty toxins into remote places (including anywhere the dumpers don’t live) and beating feet. High school student Jarrod Parker drops his younger brother Irv off for a slumber party with his Stranger Things-reminiscent peers. Jarrod grabs fast food, Irv is tolerated while his host and her guests ply the Ouija board, and weary local horror host Rip G. Raves proves his show must go on. This week’s cheesy slice of cinema? An old sci-fi cult classic called Night of the Saucer People. Irony.
The weekend mundanity is interrupted by the predicted passing of a near-Earth comet, a heavenly body that washes the planet in a radiation wave and awakens that alien litter bomb from the dino days. The weekend is officially over, and now the dying time is here. Sort of. Being exposed to parasitic space slugs that render you a murder-y walking skeleton isn’t living, but neither is it dying in the strictest sense.
There’s a lot to like in this book, especially if you’re a classic monster kid. The story is straightforward, as well as being a spoopy homage to cult classic horror films that fronted no pretenses. Or big budgets. There are also some confusing and distracting sections that had me re-reading to better grasp the events unfolding.
Jarrod, it’s eventually assumed, is Irv’s big brother and old enough to have a driver’s license, making him his sibling’s chauffeur. But their brief conversation motoring to the slumber party seems almost a parent-son conversation. The uncertainty builds as Jarrod encounters classmates who also seem older than teens. Only TV shows are allowed teen dramas enacted by thirty-somethings. A confrontation scene, already suffering from this confusion of familial relationship and age, gets murkier as the reader tries to grasp which vehicle is occupied by which troublemaker while blurry battle lines form.
Other parts work much better, including the use of Irv’s host, Sarah Phillips, to embody the monstrously poor human beings who do the stage craft for the squidgy and clawed horrors. Where would Carrie be without Billy and Chris and a bucket of porcine blood? Dating Tommy Ross and enjoying life after a rough start. Where would certain of Whisper’s good kids be without Sarah orchestrating their evening and throwing her prepubescent weight around? Alive, most likely.
Rahal script sets a tone in the same key as Tremors. It’s a little cheesy, a little scary, a whole lot icky. It’s a throwback to earlier horror comics, and it lovingly celebrates what being a monster kid was all about. The John Bivens art is right for the everyday and unexciting world of Whisper. He shines with a jack o’ lantern brilliance when the extraordinary raises its Nessie-long neck. The saucer occupants, the cosmic slugs, even the studio world of Rip G. Raves all benefit from Bivens’ style.
Hannah Jerrie and Iris Monahan contrast colors between a murky nighttime paeon to black and white film stock, and technicolor choices for action and horrific bits. Taylor Esposito’s font choices span wide and each unique styling, each sound effect, is precisely what it should be on an impressive panel-to-panel basis. His alien language font is one of the book’s most beautiful touches. I don’t understand it, the conversation cannot be as enlightened as those lovely letters, but I pored over them several times to admire the otherworldly splendor.
The launch is rough around its edges. That’s forgivable; the B-films it emulates were, too. Witchy warts and all, it makes a good Halloween season read.
Vault Comics / $3.99
Written by Eliot Rahal.
Art by John Bivens.
Colors by Hannah Jerrie and Iris Monahan.
Letters by Taylor Esposito.
7.5 out of 10
Check out this Vault Vintage variant cover by Nathan Gooden and Tim Daniel, courtesy of Vault Comics!