The Horror Honeys: Horror Comics Saturdays ~ Wolf #1

Horror Comics Saturdays ~ Wolf #1


Wolf #1
Writer: Ales Kot
Artists: Matt Taylor (art), Lee Loughridge (colours), Clayton Cowles (letters), Tom Muller (design)
Publisher: Image Comics
Released: July 2015

Writing: 4/5
Characters: 5/5
Art: 3.5/5
Entertainment: 5/5
Overall: 4 probable-Antichrists out of 5!



The crime noir thrills and characters reminiscent of True Detective meet with mythical stakes worthy of Neil Gaiman's Sandman in this original fantasy/horror/crime saga for mature readers. Antoine Wolfe, a hard-boiled paranormal detective with a death wish, has to cope with sudden responsibility for an orphaned teenage girl who might be the key to the impending apocalypse, California-style. 

This series is that rare urban horror story done very well. It combines modern-day Los Angeles and contemporary social issues with the world of the supernatural. Basically it's the successor to '80s-'90s Hellblazer that fans need and deserve.

Writing:
Ales Kot is a pretty polarizing writer, and his fans should enjoy this book. Given that it's entirely creator-owned, hopefully he won't step on as many toes as he can when working with superheroes, and will bring in some new readers too. The series has got a political agenda, and Kot is pretty upfront about it, putting a cartoonishly racist old man next to much more nuanced portrayals of vampires and other monsters. The comic pauses at one point to address its audience, so it's clear that it's aware of the real world (and, by extension, that all the social criticism applies here too). It's pretty heavy-handed, and it doesn't get into anything too edgy in this first issue, but it's clear that this will be, to some extent at least, a political comic.


Still, it's successful as a horror story, or at least a Noir story featuring monsters. This first issue starts to build the series' mythology, but it leaves a lot out and the reader has to figure out a lot on their own. It can be a bit disorienting, but I'd rather read between the lines than sit through 40 pages of exposition. We don't know yet exactly what's Wolf's deal is (although his nickname should give us clues), but it's clear that he can be both compassionate and a force to be reckoned with.

Characters:
Antoine Wolfe aka Wolf is our modern Sam Spade-esque LA paranormal detective, although an unofficial one. Like Alan Moore did with John Constantine, Kot gives his protagonist a more marginalized identity to give him more modern relevance. Like Constantine, Wolf can mostly get by on confidence and reputation, a reputation that doesn't seem unearned. Although unlike John, Wolf seems pretty comfortable with a gun.
Wolf is the book's narrator, but still enigmatic. He's haunted by his comrades from the war in Iraq, he's clairvoyant, and he's trying to get his brother out of prison. He also helps settle quarrels within the supernatural community, which is how he ends up helping Freddy Cthonic (an Old God-human hybrid) with a rent dispute, and takes in an orphaned girl who can see ghosts.

Anita Christ (yes that's her name) is also a mysterious figure at this point, barely a teenager, who witnessed her parents' murder. She escapes the police and finds Wolf at the advice of her grandmother's ghost. It's hard to say how her destiny will be entwined with Wolf's but they should make an interesting pair.

Art:
The double-size of this issue allows the creative team to take things slowly, which hugely benefits the atmosphere. Clayton Cowles' lettering is reliably great, and I love the balloon shapes he chooses for some of the mystical characters. Matt Taylor's art leans toward minimalism, often ignoring backgrounds completely. For the most part this allows the characters to be the focus, but more detail could more effectively portray the grime of this supernatural, Noir LA. When he does go for more detail, like the inside of racist millionaire Sterling Gibson's house, the surroundings come alive. Taylor has also taken some pointers from the Mike Mignola style guide, with heavy pitch-black shadows taking up most of some panels, and more effectively evoking that ominous mood. 
Mignola can also be felt in the quiet panels of a bird chirping, or the sun rising, between the more conversation-heavy scenes. These slower layouts build the mood and character of the setting, so the world feels real even if we don't know all the rules yet.



I find that Lee Loughridge's colour palettes are more expressionistic than reflective of real life. Here, the heightened yellows and oranges evoke the LA heat and paint everything in a vaguely surreal light. Paired with Taylor's heavy black shadows, this is an effectively moody comic (even if it's not a very scary one). 

Entertainment:
This comic will undoubtedly be frustrating for some readers. It doesn't have a traditional plot structure, a lot of names are thrown around without being explained, and we've only touched the tip of the iceberg of Wolf's back story. For those who can wait a little bit before things are explained, this is a real gem. What little we've seen of its world is a lot of fun: the vampires who are fans of Burning Man are a hoot, and Freddy Cthonic is one of the weirdest and most memorable supporting figures I've seen in a while. This will clearly be a unique version of "Hell on Earth" and I'm excited to see where it goes.

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Guest Comics Honey Allison is a writer, comics editor, and dog enthusiast based in Toronto.  You can find her on Twitter.