Following on from my adventures at Glasgow’s Comic-Con, which you can read about here, I promised four comic-book/graphic novel reviews. Here’s the third of them.
Note: pictures here are not scans of the book, but rather images taken with a less than great camera. Take that into consideration when examining the artwork.
Over the years I’ve slowly but steadily grown into someone who loves a good horror flick, finding them not so much scary but darkly amusing. But more than horror I’ve always had a fascination with tales aimed to send a shiver down your spine, which is frankly what I tend to view as real horror over the gore and shock tactics most often applied to the genre. A good, gory, murder filled romp is a lot of fun, but a film, book or piece of creepypasta that sends a bolt of ice down your spine and makes you nervous to walk downstairs in the dark is what really gets the blood pumping. So when I saw Twisted Dark sitting on a table at Comic-Con I was intrigued. A short while later I walked away with a copy, so did this book leave me feeling a little chilly in the spinal cord?
Twisted Dark is a collection of short stories that could probably be better described as chillers than outright horror. Every tale features a dark, twist ending making this a book only for those of us who take a perverse sort of pleasure in seeing humanity at its very worst, from hallucinating fathers to chilling addictions to a mental patient who firmly believes he’s taking part in some sort of game. The stories span the globe and touch upon numerous types of people, suggesting that evil, corruption and destruction can be found anywhere, and in anyone. It’s all driven by an examination of how fragile humans really are, how easily our emotions and thought processes can turn to strange, dark thoughts, and how a strange logic that drives them is usually to be found within these lost souls. Behind everything lies Neil Gibson’s stellar writing which comes across as very natural. The short-form story can be difficult to master due to how the writer must work so much information into a limited amount of space, but it seems Gibson is perfectly suited to this format.
At first glance these stories are seemingly self-contained, but upon further inspection you’ll realise that there’s numerous connections which show that they all take place within the same world. Some connections are obvious, but many are not and apparently these connections span the many Twisted Dark volumes. The book itself claims that on average readers see about four of these connections on their first read through. Clearly I’m an idiot, though, as I only saw two and then had to immediately try to reclaim my shredded honor by reading the entire book again to find more. On that second reading I was quite impressed by one connection involving a quiet, reserved man who had clearly gone through some sort of physical trauma early in his life and had now developed a new type of window that could be used like a giant screen, and a story later on.
Of course the potential pitfall here is that because every story has a twist ending you automatically have some idea of what’s coming and will naturally begin anticipating and preempting the twist before it arrives, and in many cases I was able to predict the endings with a fair degree of accuracy. However, even while I was fairly certain of what was coming it didn’t usually damage the ending, and I’d much rather that the stories be somewhat predictable than try to deliver twists merely for the sake of it.
While every short story is conceived and written by the clearly skilled Neil Gibson each one is drawn by a different artist lending his or her talents to the book, but the black and white coloring is uniform throughout the entire collection in keeping with the dark tone. Oddly each page has a fairly large border around the edge so that only about three-quarters or two-thirds is taken up by actual artwork. The result is a slightly squashed feeling that’s most noticeable in the overly small text. I’m honestly baffled as to why this decision was made and wish the art was given room to breath properly and for text to be just a bit bigger. Perhaps its meant to give the stories a claustrophobic feeling. Still, the book looks good across the board with some really lovely work that does justice to Gibson’s scripting.
In total there’s just shy of 200-pages of entertainment here. Most were simply good, solid reads, but there were a few that stood out as something great, including a two-part tale dealing with someone called Rajeev who discovered self-validation and worth through having power over other people, leading to a fascinating story in which he uses the Islamic religion to exert control over others. Please note I’m going to talk about the story itself in this paragraph and will certainly be entering spoiler territory, so if you don’t want to have anything ruined just skip ahead to the next paragraph. I love the way the first story builds the groundwork , and then how the second story poses itself as a story about a man genuinely discovering religion, listening with rapt attention as a sermon is delivered, but as the tale unfolds it becomes clear (even if it was fairly clear from the start) that his fervor wasn’t for the religion, but for the control that the man giving the sermon had over the rest of the audience who were all listening with great intensity. Considering how touchy a subject religion can be, and especially the Muslim faith at the moment, it was good to see Gibson wasn’t afraid to delve into the subject regardless and make a very valid point about how power and influence work, and how even when something is done in the name of religion, security from terrorism or any other interchangeable ideal it often isn’t anything to do with that at all, rather it comes down to the frequently twisted nature of humans and their desire to further their own pleasure and ambitions. Meanwhile it can also be viewed as a powerful condemnation of those who do kill in the name of faith, because why Rajeev may be preaching purely for his own sense of power rather than because of a true religious devotion, those that are inspired by his words and kill due to them and their faith do not have the same excuse. Power corrupts, and religion, as well as governments, councils and even just local little groups, can become something dark and dangerous when even just one individual is simply in it for his or her own agenda. I was also very fond of a tale involving a woman who suffers from Munchausens syndrome. The genius here is that the story really puts you into her mind, making the story much more effective.
All in all I really enjoyed reading through this book, although it has to be said that I wasn’t blown away by it like so many other reviewers seem to be. This could be down to my love of horror, however, and my years of dissecting movies and books and games which allowed to me predict most of the narrative beats, taking away some of the impact. Again, though, it’s good to see that Neil Gibson hasn’t commited the sin of attempting to put in absurd twists that don’t fit the stories in order to shock and surprise readers. It’s better to be predictable than to have a finale that just doesn’t ring true, a mistake that has been made far too often over the years by numerous movies, games and books. For 200 or so pages you can pick this up on Amazon for just £10, and for that it’s worth it. I’m intrigued enough to pick up the rest of the books and so where the interconnected stories lead.