In Review: Insexts #3

Must reading for those with a predilection for the Grand Guignol. Recommended.

The cover: Three individuals who are under the wing, so to speak, of one of the characters of this title are featured on the cover. The first pair are young Hakim, who was taken from a workhouse for nefarious employment, and Lalita’s toddler, blissfully sleeping in the arms of his protector. Take note of Hakim’s face; he looks to be knowledgeable of a dark secret. The final figure, pouring poison from a vial onto the floor is Sylvia Bertram. She is beautiful, to be sure, but the toxicity she brings to this book is leaving a bile colored waft of heat. However, something more dangerous lurks in this image and may be missed: high above the trio something large spreads its talons to grasp at prey. What this creature is can be found within. This beautiful art nouveau cover from artist Ariela Kristantina and colorist Bryan Valenza is as perfect as the previous two issues of this series. Overall grade: A

The story: At the Rye Workhouse in London, 1894, two men enter the facilities to take Hakim for “research.” When one of the men is alone with the child he’s struck from behind by Lalita who has transformed into her other self. She rips the man in half, straight down the middle. She takes the boy back to his parents, who just so happen to work for Lady Bertram. As the parents joyfully hug their child, Mariah comes up to her mistress and asks, “Could you control it this time?” Watching from behind a door that’s ajar, Sylvia Bertram — Lalita’s evil sister-in-law — listens to the affair, while she is doing something diabolical. Some time later, in Lalita’s bedchamber, Mariah, her mistress, and their child relax in privacy. Mariah has concerns about what the changes are doing to Lalita, such as her “spontaneous arms” that she must shed. It’s suggested that Dr. William Taylor might be brought into confidence about their situations, though Lalita wonders what would happen to the man should she lose control. Something dramatic occurs on Page 6 that spurs Lady Bertram to seek the services of a doctor, but not Taylor. The focus of this issue is a medical one, and before Lalita can be seen, she witnesses something that flies her to action. Pages 16 – 19 provide the horror for this installment, and I’ll give writer Marguerite Bennett credit, that’s a new one to me — I haven’t seen anything like that before, and I don’t need to witness that again! As much as I’m enjoying the horrific aspects of this tale, it’s the drama of what Sylvia is up to that really caught my attention. When evil is committed by a non-supernatural character in a tale of supernatural terrors, it stands out so much more from the fantastical elements because it plants a seed of possibility in a reader’s head: there are no insect women on the prowl (…hopefully…), but there could be a woman doing what Sylvia does in this issue. That is a terrible thought to consider. I love the dueling aspects of the monstrous in this issue, and the speech made by Sylvia at the top of 12 is fantastic. Bennett continues to make this a compelling series. Overall grade: A+ 

The art: Victorian England looks magnificent with Ariela Kristantina’s visuals. The opening panel is how most people visualize this time period: night, overcast, brick buildings, fog, and cloaked individuals. The clothes on the gentlemen and Hakim only strengthen a reader’s feeling for this era. But with the turn of a page, Kristantina changes the tone. The attack on the man is brutal and violent, to the extreme, with the final panel of the page being the absolute opposite of all that’s occurred. The kitchen of the Bertram household is terrific, as is the small room from which Sylvia spies upon the group. The first panel on Page 4 is beautiful, looking down at the wealth that surrounds Ariela. The layout of panel seven on 4 and 5 is sumptuous and completely lulled me into forgetting about the nature of this pair of protagonists. The action on 13 was intense, reminding me that a good Victorian tale has these moments where one does something not in accord with propriety of the time and it actually made me gasp. The looks both characters give one another were fantastic. Page 16 has a visual that surpasses any possible adjective I can muster, yet is fully in line with this series and necessary for what must be done to a character. The first panel on the last page is fantastic for creating an image that is, again, in complete opposition as to what was previously shown. This is the mark of an outstanding illustrator, the creation of beauty and horror, side by side. I stand and applaud you, Ms. Kristantina! Overall grade: A+

The colors: The lighting work on the opening page by Bryan Valenza cements the illustrations in their time period. The warm glow of lantern makes this an instant book of gaslights and fog. Speaking of which, look at the terrific fog work Valenza does on the first two pages. The second page’s splash of crimson, which leads into a panel comprised of red, is as startling and fantastic as what one would expect of a Hammer film. I like how Valenza has the wings on Lalita blend in with the background at the top of 2, making witnesses doubt what they may have seen. There’s a great sense of warmth in the first panel on 3 thanks to the coloring supplied by Valenza, which then turns conspiratorial in the final panels of that page. I love that Sylvia is wearing violet, the symbolic color of royalty, which gives her an instant air of superiority whenever she appears. The coloring on 16 – 19 is otherworldly and drew me deeper into the horror because it gave a strong focus to what was transpiring, even though I really shouldn’t have looked. Simply put, Valenza is creating fantastic work. Overall grade: A+

The letters: Scene settings, dialogue, whispers, sounds, screams, yells, transformed speech (You’ll understand when you see it), and the tease for next issue are crafted by A Larger World. I really love the look used for the scene settings, which takes the reader back in time, and the sounds on Page 18 make me wonder how such noises can come out of that individual. A super job. Overall grade: A+

The final line: Sensational Victorian horror that shows women battling for their place in the world. Not a “Penny Dreadful”, but AfterShock Awesomeness! Must reading for those with a predilection for the Grand Guignol. Recommended. Overall grade: A+

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer’s Guide for several years with “It’s Bound to Happen!” and he’s reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He’s taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.

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