THIS ADVANCE REVIEW FOR ‘HOUSE AMOK’ #1 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
By Jarrod Jones. Horror and Black Crown seem like they’d be a match made in comics Valhalla, but aside from a few feints made in Kid Lobotomy and a decidedly laissez faire approach to the genre in Punks Not Dead horror has yet to make its eldritch presence felt in the IDW imprint. Enter House Amok, a new tale from Christopher Sebela, Shawn McManus, Lee Loughridge and Aditya Bidikar, a parade of insanity with one hell of a title and an exceptionally horrifying premise.
As you leaf through the first eight pages of House Amok #1, which chronicles an abruptly violent pit-stop along an extended family road trip, just try and stop your eyes from slowly widening in terror. Yes, everyone in your family is crazy, but spare a thought for Dylan Sandifer, who’s arriving at the grim realization that the family who slays together… stays together. Thick and thin with your kith and kin. It’s a hair-raising sequence that, for me, recalled the early bits of Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk to Dawn—a killer introduction that establishes a family dynamic, the tone of the story, and just a taste of what we can expect as we descend with these characters into hells both personal and quite real.
It’s here where the book wisely hits the brakes and gives us a moment to breathe in the midst of vital context: Dylan, just ten years old, is the only member of the Sandifer family unit who doesn’t appear to participate in their folie à deux (or “shared psychosis”). Trouble is, she’s a passenger on her family’s Cascadian rampage, complicit in their heinous crimes… as much as a ten year-old child can be compicit, anyway.
Which brings us to Dylan’s middle-class suburban family, who share above-average intelligence and a big honkin’ secret that only begins to take shape by the end. There’s Father and Mother Sandifer—pop does the homeschooling and curates his family-focused blog while ma wastes her smarts in a menial book-keeping job. Older brother Tyler broodily skulks in his room (and, guessing from all the gizmos and whatsis wired up in his room, the darker corners of the internet) while identical twins Dylan and Ollie make up stories together and otherwise blithely enjoy their childhoods. And then Amok plunges the knife: Dylan’s parents are finally ready to act on their quiet suspicions that the world is at the mercy of aliens—or demons, or Slendermen, it’s really not that clear yet—which means hop in, Dylan, and never mind the scalpel… we’re going on a road trip.
Christopher Sebela, one of the hardest-working writers in comics right now (what is this, the twentieth book he’s put out this year?), divulges precious few details in this white-knuckled debut. And what little we know by the end is meted out so methodically that we’re still not privy to the larger components of the series’ machinery by the issue’s end. That’s fine for me; I liked rooting through the clues Sebela tasked McManus to leave behind in the issue’s meticulously-structured panel work, attempting to find truths in places where none might exist. That’s part of the conspiratorial charm of House Amok. Sebela & McManus set the majority of the story through a child’s perception, where parents always seem to be in the middle of an important conversation we shouldn’t be listening to, where answers arrive to us subtly, provided we’re capable of spotting them. Truth is, we don’t know a damn thing in this story until Dylan and Ollie know.
This murkiness allows Loughridge to go wild with his shifting colors—he pivots from imbuing the story with the mundane to the outright shocking in a bid to outdo everyone else in conveying Amok‘s intense phantasmagoria. (Without spoiling anything, Loughridge and McManus work hand-in-glove on two parallel splash pages that drew me in so violently I almost got whiplash.) It’s this multi-layered suspense that makes me anxious to see McManus go full Fables on us in future issues, to see how he’ll realize the horrors that currently lurk in the book’s periphery.
House Amok is a blood-red carousel ride, a whirling vision of madness that pushes Black Crown even further into its astounding second phase. It violates the safety of our everyday trappings with a spectral savagery, creating a sense of foreboding even when it’s endearing us with its gigantic heart. In one sequence, the family whiles away their journey with a friendly game of I Spy With My Little Eye—someone says “I spy something on fire.” The ethos of the series is then summed up by one pithy remark: “The world.” *shudder* Keep the lights on for this one.
Black Crown/IDW Publishing/$3.99
Written by Christopher Sebela.
Art by Shawn McManus.
Colors by Lee Loughridge.
Letters by Aditya Bidikar.
Edited by Shelly Bond.
9 out of 10
‘House Amok’ #1 hits stores August 29. Final order cutoff is August 6.
Read our ‘House Amok’ interview with Christopher Sebela here.