Mainstream Comics Worth Paying Attention To : “The Red Mother”

There’s a pretty solid like mindfuck going on over at Boom! Studios right now, courtesy of writer Jeremy Haun and artist Danny Luckert, and it’s called The Red Mother. It fits broadly under the “psychological horror” canopy, although it seems to be delving deeper and deeper into the realm of the purely supernatural as it progresses. It features nice, pacy scripting and stunningly detailed artwork. And it’s no “one-trick pony” either — Haun and Luckert have taken their rather nifty little premise and slowly built upon it brick by brick, story “beat” by story “beat,” for five issues now, each successive installment drawing readers deeper into a web of terror and intrigue.

Now, about that premise : yuppie-in-training Daisy McDonough and her fiance are viciously attacked one night, leaving him dead and her missing an eye. Being of means (and, crucially, health insurance), however, she’s able to get herself hooked up with a prosthetic — and that’s when the visions begin. Visions that are horrifying, sure, but also strangely alluring, in true siren-call fashion. Visions of — wait for it — The Red Mother.  And, hey, if that’s not enough, a vaguely Hellraiser-esque puzzle shows up at her doorstep out of nowhere, and a shadowy rich dude offers her a new job, but is probably more interested in unlocking the portal to another world or dimension that she seems privy to. Or maybe he’s even from there? Too soon to say for sure.

It’s certainly not too early to proclaim we’ve got a winner on our hands with this book, though. Five issues — with a sixth arriving, I believe, next week — is a pretty solid “sample size”to judge anything on, and the methodical, slow-burn buildup that Haun is constructing here offers a nice little clinic on “how to do it” that a lot of aspiring writers would do well to take note of. The characterization might be a little on the sparse side, but it’s enough, and besides — it’s atmosphere that we’re here for, anyway, and he serves that up in generous proportion indeed.

And while we’re talking about atmosphere, does Luckert’s art ever deliver on that score. He draws the hell out of every panel on every page, no shortcuts or easy ways out taken — his backgrounds are finished completely, his characters and their settings are rendered in flat-out exquisite detail, and his cinematic eye for composition draws the eye right where it needs to go, even if you’ve only got one good one yourself. Plus, he’s his own colorist and, therefore, his own best asset. When he’s illustrating our “real” world, the colors are pitch-perfect in creating a kind of cool, detached mood, and when he’s in “red world,” he plays with shading to up the “horror factor” in just the right ways at just the right times. He’s been firing on all cylinders from issue one, sure, but is likewise clearly gaining confidence as the series goes on. You really can’t ask for more than that.

Interestingly, while Boom! appears to have a penchant for publishing “danger lurking just beneath the surface”-type books — see also Once & Future  and Something Is Killing The Children — this one in no way skews “YA” as most of their line does, and makes a straight play for an old-school, Vertigo-style “mature readers” audience. In fact, this feels very much like a late-’90s Vertigo book, only with better art than they usually had, so for those missing that kind of a read on their “pull lists,” you’re in luck and should be really pleased with this title.

As will everyone else, really. This isn’t a flawless comics by any stretch — the protagonist is by no means un-likeable, for instance, but it’s tough to get much of a handle on her beyond her trauma — but given the dearth of addictive, page-turning horror books in recent years, it’s a welcome monthly visitor that I hope keeps visiting for some time to come yet.

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