Are you looking forward to a new comic book but it’s impossible for you to wait for its release before you know what we thought about it? That’s why there’s DoomRocket’s Advanced Reviews—now we assess books you can’t even buy yet. This week: ‘Killadelphia’ #1, out November 27 from Image Comics.
THIS ADVANCE REVIEW OF ‘KILLADELPHIA’ #1 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Clyde Hall. Since the 1973 TV movie The Night Stalker, my favored horror form is a modern, realistic setting which suddenly hosts a creature that is neither. A jaundiced journalist as a Knight of Truth with armor rusted from past failed crusades set against the battlements of authority and power covers a murder investigation in Las Vegas. He’s a veteran crime reporter acquainted with human evils. He begins to suspect the Vegas killer is more legend than man.
In that old film, science isn’t blind. It acknowledges through forensics of the time that canine-like bite marks caused excessive blood loss. That human saliva was found in the wounds. Based on the test results, the coroner suggests the police search for an anemic fellow with a rare blood disease.
It’s a real-world assessment without acknowledging anything beyond a mortal suspect. Evidence builds, but no one truly believes an undead, immortal vampire has come a-hunting herds of sun-dappled high rollers along the neon avenues of Sin City. Which makes rational Carl Kolchak’s realization that he’s dealing with a supernatural monster frankly chilling.
Rodney Barnes has built Killadelphia on a similar template. It has the hard-boiled veteran cop in Detective James Sangster. He’s dealt with human evil in his years serving and protecting the City of Brotherly Love. Inhuman evil is an unexpected late career expansion. His colleague in the Medical Examiner’s Office, Jose Padilla, brings the science. Soaked in a tub of bloody Philadelphia history, a past yellow fever epidemic, and the involvement of John Adams, the setting couldn’t feel more real.
Providing the final veneer of actuality is the soft-boiled lawman, young Baltimore beat cop JJ Sangster who narrates the story from the emasculating confines of his father’s shadow. He carries his bitterness like a balm, embraces it, uses it to fuel his drive beyond where it would otherwise wither.
Barnes populates the storyscape with very flawed people interacting with imperfection. No matter how ‘heroic’ or hard-working individuals may be, their involvements with co-workers and family are never idealized. JJ’s collusion in the case is a final way to bust his father’s chops, solving a case that eluded the elder Sangster.
Barnes’ familiarity with Philadelphia is also a mixed bag of reality. He exhibits equal parts reverence and revulsion for the city, another entirely human venue. JJ can’t leave his hometown fast enough, but then doesn’t. He’s sure finishing business there will put home in his rear-view mirror for once and all. We know he’ll carry home with him, likely for the rest of his life.
Adding to the authenticity of the city, of the world, of its inhabitants, is sublime Jason Shawn Alexander art. Certain horror comics creators add a layer of style which deepens the suspense, intensifies the macabre beyond mere narrative. Bernie Wrightson. Bruce Jones. Gene Colan. Nestor Redondo. Mike Ploog. The first issue of Killadelphia is Alexander’s résumé for the pantheon. The most basic panels evolve into compositions more akin to paintings than pencils.
Luis Nct brings balance between the shadows and light. His colors of day and night are not stark contrast. Hints of each remain in the other and that holds the appearance to a blended consistency. The punch of virulent, fleeting hues—yellow of police tape, orange of a sunrise—chart the heartbeat of the narrative like an EKG. Marshall Dillon’s lettering doesn’t play safe. He goes from computer screen fonts to almost scratched sound punctuations, handwritten journal entries to walls of graffiti lettering. In each case, Dillon makes his choices work.
The team has packed a lot into #1, enough that on first read the switch between Sangster viewpoints went unnoticed, leading to momentary confusion.
Perspective thereafter was spot-on and flowing. They’ve combined and entwined their contributions into a gem of a horror tale. Like Jeff Rice’s The Night Stalker, they create a city setting real enough to visit, then beset it with a supernatural plague, depriving us any comfort produced by urban familiarity.
Why the parallel I draw with reporter Carl Kolchak’s brand of horror? Blame Rodney Barnes in part for it. His James Sangster character is aptly named. Sangster/Sanguine. More, Jimmy Sangster was a screenwriter and director of Hammer Horror films. His screenwriter credits include Dracula and other Hammer vampire fare. Sangster also wrote an episode of the short-lived TV series spun off from The Night Stalker, “Horror in the Heights”. It was a character-driven piece set in a very run-down Jewish neighborhood where senior citizens are preyed upon by a Hindu Rakshasa. The plight of the elderly, the aged residents’ camaraderie and cantankerousness, the unlikely supernatural threat facing them; all parallel the spirit behind Killadelphia. Well played, Mr. Barnes.
Image Comics / $3.99
Written by Rodney Barnes.
Art by Jason Shawn Alexander.
Colors by Luis Nct.
Letters by Marshall Dillon.
8.5 out of 10
‘Killadelphia’ #1 hits stores November 27.
Check out this variant cover to ‘Killadelphia’ #1 by Francesco Mattina, courtesy of Image Comics!