In Review: Dark Red #6

You haven't encountered horror until you've seen Dark Red.

The cover: The freeway sign that announces to those on the concrete highway that they’ve entered Fall’s End has been damaged. A car hasn’t hit it and it’s not been disfigured by weather. Something with long nails has slashed it like paper. There’s also red splatters on the sign and a trail of red on the grass below it. I’m betting that’s not paint. This is an excellent cover to entice new readers to pick up this series for the first time and is an image that will elicit smiles to those who’ve read the previous issues. This is by one of my favorite artists, Meghan Hetrick, and I’m hoping to see her do more work for this series and, perhaps, other AfterShock books. Overall grade: A 

The story: Chip is once again mopping the floor at the Buffalo Jump Station. He asks for more hours from this boss Renee so he can get his car fixed, but she says that due to the recent deaths in town (from the previous five issues) business has been down. Considering the Testosterone Tart Slushy she’s just poured herself, she empties its contents onto the floor. “Looks like I had a little spill. Better clean that up, Chip, and do a real thorough job. Prolly take ya at least a few dollars’ worth.” Chip smiles, knowing his boss does care. He later goes to Mtiz’s bar, where the barkeep notices that in all the time she’s known him he’s not had anything to drink until now. “You can say it, chip. We all saw you comin’ outta her place even though it wasn’t no official type arrangement. You miss Evie Keen.” Chip gets up to use the restroom. He doesn’t have to empty his bladder, but his stomach because as a vampire he can’t drink anything but blood. After he expels the beer, he looks into the stall next to him and finds a drunk on the pot whose throat draws him closer. I like how writer Tim Seeley makes Chip sympathetic, but tears that down as the vampire looks at the drunk. Things in the bar escalate when a “city slicker” makes some comments that upset the patrons. Chip then goes into the woods to mark his territory against other vampires. This was a gross and cool moment. After he does so a new character appears that changes his demeanor. The information that’s teased on Pages 10 – 12 is outstanding. The other new character is heartbreaking. Page 13 is funny, terrible, and shows Chip to be much more than what one would expect of his ilk. The next page introduces the book’s true antagonist and he’s a menace with a twist. My jaw dropped when I read the last two panels on 17 and was floored by 18 and 19. Horror and heart are beautifully combined. I cannot wait to see what happens next! Overall grade: A+

The art: I cannot get enough of Corin Howell’s artwork. A reader wouldn’t think twice about the reality she’s created on the first three pages. A slender protagonist working the night shift at a mini-mart washing the floors begging for more hours. The wonderful emotions Howell puts on the characters’ faces speaks volumes when the dialogue goes silent. The spilling of the drink on the second page initially shocked me, but the smile on Chip that follows this event tells me Renee cares for him and he for her. Mitz’s place is the type of dive that litters small towns. Everyone has passed one of these places. In the restroom things change. The reader is looking almost straight down into the stalls to show Chip puking out his guts and that someone is next to him. When Chip opens that stall’s door, notice how Howell put Chip’s face in shadows; he is not a normal human anymore. The fourth panel is a close-up of his eyes and they are inhuman and terrible. The close-up of Pat’s neck is terrific, showing the reader exactly what Chip is wholly focused on. The character who appears in the last panel on 5 is being looked down upon by the reader, a tease on how this individual is to be considered. Very clever. Chip’s drive on 7 is a terrific visual way to show the reader the highlights, what they are, of Fall’s End. The action on 8 is graphic and violent, but completely appropriate for what needs to be done. I love the design of the character that appears on 9 and the four panel progression that’s on the right is fantastic. The character at the bottom of the page will change how the reader has considered this individual. The action of the next two pages is incredible; speed is incredibly difficult to create in a comic, but there’s no question that these two are racing faster than humans. The design of the other new character is also good. I love the final three panels on 13 — outstanding movement and incredibly funny, even in the panels without dialogue. The reveal on 14 is shocking, followed by something completely unexpected. Chip is incredible on the pages that follow. Pages 18 and 19 are brutal and heartbreaking. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen something so horrific and beautiful. That full-paged splash on the penultimate page is an absolute gut punch. Howell is playing me like a harp with her visuals and I don’t want her to stop. Overall grade: A+

The colors: Vampires can only exist in the night time world, so that seemingly doesn’t leave Mark Englert much opportunity to insert bright colors in this book. You would be so wrong. The Buffalo Jump Station has the familiar ultra antiseptic white floors and walls of all convenience stores, peppered with bright colors from the products it sells. The unnatural blue of Renee’s drink made me smile before she said what it was. I like that she and Chip’s orange shirts make them a focus in the white environment. I like how this orange shirt allows Chip to blend into the surroundings of Mitz’s, which is what he wants to do as a vampire. When Chip goes into vamp mode his eyes go yellow and are outlined in orange — colors are key to the reader to know when the protagonist has his game face on. The crimson on white shown on Page 8 is startling. I loved the yellows and grays of the new characters, which also stand out on the whites. I love how dark the distant background is colored on the final twelve pages, making this setting seem endless. Englert is acing every aspect of this book. Overall grade: A+

The letters: Carlos Mangual is the letterer for this book, creating signage, scene settings, dialogue, sounds, narration, whispered text, and a tremendous scream. There are a wide variety of fonts used for all the signs on the opening pages and all look appropriate for the items that bear them. The scene settings are a large font that looks unlike any other scene settings in comics. They demand the reader’s attention so no one will be lost at the newest location. The dialogue is easy to read and set off from the narration with the latter being in ever so slight italics. I love when letterers do this, as these are two different forms of communication. I take this as a sign of a professional. The whispered text is used for drunker speech and when one is at a loss for words. The scream in the bathroom stall consumes the entire panel it’s in, as it should since the action that’s creating it is a nightmare. Overall grade: A+ 

The final line: You haven’t encountered horror until you’ve seen Dark Red. This is an engaging, emotional roller coaster ride that will create sympathy and shocks. Chip is the best vampire created in any form of fiction in years. He is amazing. The visuals are spectacular in their ability to capture reality and the supernatural thrills that one hopes aren’t real. This is an exceptional book and this is the perfect entry point to start following this series. This is one of my favorite comics. Highest possible recommendation. Overall grade: A+ 

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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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