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‘Joe Hill: The Graphic Novel Collection’ (review)

Written by Joe Hill
Illustrated by Nat Jones, Zach Howard,
Vic Malhotra, Charles Paul Wilson III
Published by IDW Publishing
Released on February 7, 2017
ISBN-13: 978-1631407680
Price: $49.99


Author Joe Hill, best known for his book Horns, offers a small collection of five gruesome tales, each quite different from the last due to shifting styles in art and storytelling.

However, each tend to circle themes of the dark nature of people and their ability to turn on each other rather than themes of the supernatural, monsters and things that go bump in the night.

Thus, this collection of stories spotlight the horror of humanity itself.

(And yes, Hill is the son of horror icon Stephen King. The scribe has done an admirable job over the last decade to set himself apart from his famed father. That’s all we need to say on that, really.)

The collection includes the stories of The Cape, The Cape: 1969, Kodiak and Wraith, along with touching a foreword by comic scribe Jason Ciaramella, who touches upon Hill’s work, as well as his character.

The Cape tackles the question: what if with great power, came great douchebaggery? A low life loser with the ability to carry a heavy grudge discovers that his childhood blanky-turned-cape gives his the ability to fly. And instead of using his ability to rescue orphans from burning buildings, he gets revenge on others for petty injustice. Eric the Slacker becomes a flying, death-dealing asshole who gets his retribution on various “foes,” including a long-suffering ex-girlfriend, snooping law enforcement and various family members, just to name a few.

The look and feel of The Cape offer shades of Tales from the Crypt with a modern twist. The shading and line work giving the proper amount of darkness to the main character of Eric, painting him as the sinister slacker with a dark side despite his sweatpants and stubble.

The Cape: 1969 takes a step back in time, visiting Eric’s father, an absent figure to young Eric and his brother in The Cape, but Captain Gordon “Cory” Chase, a Medevac helicopter pilot in the US Army who is captured by the enemy during the Vietnam war. During his time in a tiger cage, the elder Chase is kept with a local witch, who happens to “gift” him with the ability of flight.

The two stories work well together, although there is a clear tonal shift between the two. The Cape: 1969 border on sci-fi, as a GI attempts to make use of his newfound superpower, while The Cape is clear-cut horror at time, as the character of Eric taps into the worst of mankind with the power he inherits.

Thumbprint follows the story of Mallory Grennan, a former private first class who was dishonorably discharged after she was found guilty of prisoner abuse. Moving back to her hometown after the death of her father, Mallory begins receiving fan mail in the form of scarred thumbprints. As the former private recalls the torture and humiliation she inflicted on others while in service to her nation, she continues to receive letters and visits from a mysterious figure from her past.

The bareness of the comic sets a somber tone for the tale as heavy grays hang over the story. Flashbacks of particular brutality are shaded in singular tones, as the monotone color of each section of the story does an admirable job of emphasizing the horror without having to use gore.

Kodiak is a play on fairytale stories as the look and feel of the comic takes on a look and feel of beanstalk whimsy. Featuring evil royalty, good-hearted circus performers, a lovely maiden and an angry bear, the story of Kodiak is a palate cleanser among the dark tales about corruption and darkness of human nature. It’s cute. It’s sweet. It’s down right adorable. Mutilation and all.

And finally, we come to Wraith. The title refers to the 1938 Rolls Royce with the smiling driver behind the wheel…and a captured child in the backseat. Charles Talent Manx is happy to tell you about his story, but you better buckle up, ‘cause it’s a bit of doozy. Filled with anger, hatred and bitterness, the odd tale of driver behind the wheel of the Wraith is by far the most entertaining of the lot.

Part Alan Moore’s Joker, part something completely unique, readers are given a type of origin story, but not a hero’s journey, that’s for damn sure. This is a journey filled with blood and fear, of violence and hate, a little trip down the darkest part of the human soul. And oh my, is it fun.

Hill’s stories a fun grouping of horror tales that won’t terrify the tough hearted, but will entertain those who are fans of the genre. The best of the bunch is clearly Wraith, which gleefully takes the reader by the hand to merrily skip down a path lined with blood and guts. A fine collection for those who love horror and Hill alike.


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