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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Weekly Reading Round-Up : 12/08/2019 – 12/14/2019

Looks like we’re back on the first issue train in a big way this week — even if one of them’s a one-shot. And since that one-shot is the comic that everyone is talking about right this very moment, that’s where we’ll start things off —

Frank Miller goes back to the well (that’s been rather unwell) with Dark Knight Returns : The Golden Child #1, presented in the old school “Dark Knight Format” that it pioneered (this time under DC’s Black Label imprint), with sumptuous art from the criminally under-utilized-in-recent-years Rafael Grampa, who’s infused his sleek, cinematic style with a little bit more Dave Cooper-esque physical “ripple” than we’ve seen from him in the past while maintaining the overall aesthetic of his Geoff Darrow-by-way-of- Moebius roots. The result is a book that looks absolutely gorgeous and earns a “buy” recommendation for the art alone, with the generally fun and lighthearted story just being a nice plus. The Joker and Darkseid are both pulling the strings of an obvious Donald Trump analogue in the so-called “Dark Knight Universe,” and it’s up to a new generation of heroes — Carrie Kelly, Superman and Wonder Woman’s daughter Lara, and their son, Jon —to stop him (and, by extension, them)? I’m all in for that, and nobody has drawn Darkseid this well since Kirby, so — yeah. This thing is all kinds of entertainingly batshit-crazy eye candy.

Also worth a buy just for the illustration is Boom! Studios’ The Red Mother #1, written by The Beauty‘s Jeremy Haun, who this time hands off art chores to Danny Luckert of Regression renown. The script is a nice mix mix of solid-if-uninspired body horror and demonic entity stuff, centered as it is on a protagonist who loses an eye in a mugging and begins to see an evil figure out of her new prosthetic, but Luckert’s hyper-detailed art almost reminds me of a street-level take on Monstress, and to call the whole thing gorgeous is probably to sell it a little bit shorter than it deserves. Not sure how many issues this one is slated to run, but I’ll be there for all of them.

Moving over to Dark Horse, Steve Niles returns to his long-shelved Cal McDonald character for Criminal Macabre : The Big Bleed Out #1, with gritty “horror noir” art courtesy of Gyula Nemeth. This one’s a pretty breezy read that does a nice job of re-introducing our ostensible “hero” — or of introducing him in the first place if you’re new to the franchise — and successfully transposes standard pulp tropes, particularly the femme fatale, into a horror context. Nothing earth-shattering happening here by any stretch, but as it’s only four issues I have no problem with following it through to the finish. I do kinda wish Niles would challenge himself with some more long-form storytelling, though.

Finally, the best-written book of the week is Dying Is Easy #1, which comes our way courtesy of IDW and the creative team of Joe Hill and Martin Simmonds. A disgraced former cop who drove a woman to suicide is trying to make it in the stand-up world, only to fall under immediate suspicion when a rival who stole some of his jokes for a routine he performed on the Jay Leno show turns up murdered in this debut issue, and Hill does a flat-out magnificent job of immersing us in his particularly sardonic view of comedy club “culture,”while Simmonds, who impressed with his work on Punks Not Dead, channels his inner Sienkiewicz with plenty of stylish aplomb. This comic was just plan great, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes.

And that’ll about do it for this Round-Up, my last obligation being to remind you all that this column is brought to you each and every week by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be damn appreciative if you’d give it a look by heading on over to