THIS REVIEW OF CURSED COMICS CALVACADE’ #1 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Clyde Hall. Along with their Swamp Thing Halloween Special #1 (previewed here on DoomRocket, and now available at Walmart), DC’s returned to the pumpkin patch for a collection of all-new frightful stories in Cursed Comics Cavalcade #1. Bookend editions like this, when done well, lend quantifiable ambiance to our holiday atmosphere. The stories here may not make you jump with every page turn, but this coven of creative adepts weaves fine, preternatural entertainment. That begins with the cover, a Doug Mahnke/Wil Quintana homage to EC Comics with Batman struggling against a gruesome grave-crawler, with spotlights on the featured heroes rather than the horror hosts.
We begin with “The Spread”, a Swamp Thing cautionary botanical tale of science gone amokamokamok. Writer Tom Seeley channels the Crichton-esque ability to distill a technical and complex concept and make it understandable for those who have only a passing acquaintance with biological chemistry. Then terrifying in its implications.
Jordy Verrill from Weeds and General Sternwood of The Big Sleep lurk around the corners of this narrative; the latter definitely captures the vibe of “The Spread” when relating his dislike of orchids. “Nasty things. Their flesh is too much like the flesh of men. Their perfume has the rotten sweetness of corruption.” Artist Kyle Hotz and colorist FCO Plascencia help make this choice for the opening tale a good one, with work that clearly embodies both E.C. and Wrightson. The Swamp Thing speech styling adopted by letterer Steve Wands is distinct, as are the muckety sound effects that compliment the squishy, squalid setting. Characters, too.
Batman may headline the best of the book with “Gorehound”. It’s macabre, brief, and twisty, like a skull with a Shirley Temple cut. The story of crimes mirroring recognizable slasher movies uses a transitory monster role that suits it to a custom mortician fit. The tricks are provided by writer Gary Dauberman, and Riccardo Federici ‘s art is simultaneously gory and gorgeous. Colorist Sunny Gho and letterer Steve Wands complete this perfect little Halloween treat.
“Siren Song” from Vita Ayala and Victor Ibáñez, with Matthew Wilson and Clayton Cowles, challenges one of Wonder Woman’s most basic principles. Amazons maintain that love’s power comes from affording us the opportunity to be our best selves. But it also may lead to our worst versions. Either way, love endures. As do curses.
No one may be able to hear you scream in space, but inside a spaceborne emerald energy bubble? Sound carries just fine. Guy Gardner finds this out in a Green Lantern ghost story called “Life Sentence”, from scripter Kenny Porter and artist Riley Rossmo, with colors by Ivan Plascencia and letters by Tom Napolitano. Imagine transposing the haunted cellblocks of Eastern State Penitentiary onto a cosmic background and you have an inkling what’s in store. Porter does a handy bit of expansion on the bureaucracy of the Corps, as well as atypical applications of the ring melded to the suffering will behind it.
Etrigan the Demon meddles in mortal affairs once more, courtesy of writers Gabriel Hardman (also the artist) and Corinna Bechko, with Trish Mulvihill supplying colors and Clayton Cowles letters. The indiscriminate nature of disease and contamination fuels modern horror, including our current preoccupation with zombies. It’s hardly a new form of fear, as Jason Blood discovers in 19th Century Louisiana. Demons are known for finding loopholes, but Blood enacts one of his own as pestilence sweeps New Orleans in “Yellow Jack”.
Freddy Krueger and Morpheus know: Even the most powerful human beings are made vulnerable in dreams. The same goes for invulnerable Kryptonians. Humans only need worry about stubbing their toe on the nightstand when they’re compelled by nightmares to act. It’s more hazardous for Superman in “Strange Visitor”, and more frightening for anyone in the vicinity. Writer Mags Visaggio explores the downside of super-slumber, and coins my new favorite Kal quote: “Swep pawawsus?” The artwork of Minkyu Jung is balanced between the clean focus of waking and the flitting shadows of sleep, with colors by Jordie Bellaire and lettering from Josh Reed.
Heat waves do increase violent behavior, in crime and in those fighting it. For those misbehaving, add in a few cold brews which, deceptively, raise body temps leading to still more aggravation and then more violence. For heroes like Green Arrow and Black Canary, mix in the fatigue of sandbagging the humid tidal wave of worst human behavior, and you get a perfect invitation for nightmares to take a daytime stroll. “The Monster in Me” is a chimera-fueled tale penned by Michael Moreci, pencilled by Felipe Watanabe, inked by Jonas Trindade, colored by Romulo Fajardo, Jr., with letters from Deron Bennett.
Black Lightning and Katana star in my pick of the orchard bushel with “Mercy Killing” by writer Bryan Hill, artist Dexter Soy, colors by Veronica Gandini, and lettering from Carlos Mangual. The two Outsiders turn inward, facing a Japanese demonic force preying upon the young. The creature is terrifying, the heroes shine brightly, and their individual battles are joined. The result is a satisfying and horrific tale, with the bonus of teammates making a personal connection from the shared experience. It’s even sprinkled with a bit of Nightmare Before Christmas love.
More teamwork, not what you might expect for Damian Wayne and a failed plant elemental-turned-zombie villain, prevails with Robin and Solomon Grundy in “The Devil You Know”. When runaways are abducted, Robin and Grundy put aside their opposing affiliations to mount a rescue. As related by Dave Wielgosz, Christian Duce, Romulo Fajardo, Jr., and Tom Napolitano, the Big Bad Wolf has nothing on the Damian/Grundy ability to huff, puff, and take down a creepy Gotham miscreant.
Fittingly Zatanna leads the final story, in James Tynion IV, Mark Buckingham, Andrew Pepoy, Jordie Bellaire, and Deron Bennett’s “Halloween Hayride”. Zatara knows what the best parts of Halloween are all about, but his daughter isn’t convinced. Zatanna sees it as a tawdry, commercial representation of the supernatural dangers they face daily. But then a hayride prank targets a fearful and innocent child, and Zee perpetuates her father’s fondness for the season. When the walls between worlds are thin, and the things crossing over scary, fun can still be had. Just ask a kid.
Cursed Comics Cavalcade #1 reminds us what being that youthful comic book reader of supernatural titles was all about, especially if eerie tales incidentally involving superheroes were our joy. The adult fan in us will appreciate the added explorations into folklore, speculative science, and the characterizations of familiar heroes, some of whom don’t truck with the mystical on a regular basis. As a collection, it consists of many more bite-size Mars bars than generic peanut butter kisses.
Written by Tim Seeley, Gary Dauberman, Vita Ayala, Kenny Porter, Corinna Bechko, Gabriel Hardman, Mags Visaggio, Jeff Loveness, Michael Moreci, Bryan Hill, Dave Wielgosz, and James Tynion IV.
Art by Kyle Hotz, Riccardo Federici, Victor Ibáñez, Riley Rossmo, Gabriel Hardman, Minkyu Jung, Felipe Watanabe, Jonas Trindade, Dexter Soy, Christian Duce, Mark Buckingham, and Andrew Pepoy.
Colors by FCO Plascencia, Sunny Gho, Matthew Wilson, Ivan Plascencia, Trish Mulvihill, Jordie Bellaire, Romulo Fajardo, Jr., and Veronica Gandini.
Letters by Steve Wands, Tom Napolitano, Carlos M. Mangual, Deron Bennett, Clayton Cowles, and Josh Reed.
8 out of 10