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: ‘Stranger Things’ #1, out September 26 from Dark Horse Comics.
THIS ADVANCE REVIEW OF ‘STRANGER THINGS’ #1 IS SPOILER-FREE.
by Brendan F. Hodgdon. Tie-in comics will always hold a special place in my comics-loving heart. After all, it was Dark Horse’s own Star Wars comics that really birthed my love for the medium in the first place. But when it comes to the success of tie-in media, the relevant question is whether the universe at large can sustain extraneous stories at all. Not every movie or TV show has the sort of open-ended world or premise that can support an expanded universe.
This was very much my concern with Stranger Things, a series whose charm is largely dependent on the self-contained, intimate nature of its world and characters. At first glance it seems like there are only so many “extra” stories that could make their way into comics, and only so far that its mythology can be stretched to accommodate new ideas. Thankfully, this comic features one such story, and Jody Houser, Stefano Martino, Keith Champagne, Lauren Affe and Nate Piekos all do a solid job of bringing it to life.
The comics’ choice to tell the story of exactly what happened to Will Byers in Season One is a smart one. It retains focus on the central premise of Stranger Things and its cast of characters rather than trying to expand outward into new, out-of-place territory. (Intriguingly, it also could potentially serve as a backdoor introduction to relevant mythology details for Season 3.) Most importantly, it gives us more time with Will as a character, which by default is one small improvement on the show itself. It’s here that Houser and Martino work wonders with this comic.
The script maintains a tight focus on Will from beginning to end, allowing us the chance to fully inhabit his point of view. Houser uses thought bubbles, which feel retro (and therefore appropriate to the source material), to give us a sense of how Will is processing the Upside Down dimension. And Martino’s pencils capture both the fearful uncertainty on Will’s face and the hollow emptiness of this other world around him. The collective effect drives home just how scared and alone Will is, which makes his attempts to keep going all the more cathartic. This could also have the retroactive effect of giving us more empathy for Will in Season Two, as we gain more understanding of what happened to him.
Beyond the much-needed examination of Will’s state of mind, the book solidly renders the world of the series for the comic book medium. In the few flashback snippets of the D&D game from the pilot, Houser nails the interplay amongst the other kids. Keith Champagne’s inks and Lauren Affe’s colors are also key here, particularly when it comes to the Upside Down and its shadowy, blue-tinged aesthetic. It all feels like a natural extension of the show, a very comfortable adoption of its voice and sensibilities.
But is revealing Will’s untold story from Season One enough to make this comic worth our while? It’s hard to say. After all, as nice as it is to see more of Will, we know how this part of the story will ultimately end up. So I wonder if the creative team is involved in the collective creative process enough to do more with this story as it continues. Even if they aren’t privy to what’s coming in the next highly anticipated season of Stranger Things, they could at least take advantage of previously established events to add more elements to the comic. The result could mean that, beyond just refining our understanding of Will’s plight, it could expand its relevance to the story going forward. This would go a long way to help the comic help feel like less of a (well-done) afterthought to the Netflix series.
Stranger Things #1 may not be breaking any boundaries as far as its source material is concerned. But if you’re a sucker for this tale of friendship and interdimensional monsters it will scratch that itch nicely. Hopefully as it progresses its top-flight creative team will have more of a chance to cast a die of their own, charting a thrilling new path both for this world and its heroes.
Dark Horse Comics/$3.99
Written by Jody Houser.
Pencils by Stefano Martino.
Inks by Keith Champagne.
Colors by Lauren Affe.
Letters by Nate Piekos of Blambot.
7.5 out of 10
‘Stranger Things’ #1 hits stores September 26.