(Peter Milligan / Roberto de la Torre / David Baron / Dave Lanphear; Valiant)
With Shadowman #14, the art team of Roberto de la Torre and David Baron stomp the horror genre comic with thick, masterful boots. A matter of fact, screw genre niches, as far as I am concerned, these guys are stomping comics in general. This book is as beautiful as it is creepy as it is viscerally, knot-tingly, horrifically powerful. Its strengths lie in its visuals and they cover the mars of some minor Milligan missteps.
There is a distance to the pages in Shadowman #14, a gauze between the action and the reader, a haze or a fog. The things that come out of this mist come at you hard and vicious. There is little air to breathe in these panels; de la Torre's wispy lines and suggested backgrounds barely hold together and Baron's colors wash you even more in uncertainty, as if your emotional reaction can only be gauged through subtle shifts in the vibrancy of greens or reds or grays. This art burrowed into my own primal fears getting to a fundamental, intrinsic horror – something so terribly alien mating furiously and frantically with everything familiar and comforting.
But comics are a story-telling vessel and art alone can only carry so much when the words it is paired with congeals what otherwise would be the fluidity of focus. Milligan rushes his scripting in this issue, sending Jack Boniface and the Shadowman Loa careening through a story that deserves more quiet moments – those beats that reflect and engage – those pauses that build tension, break sweats, tighten muscles, and add that next chemical to the flow. Milligan seems almost overwrought. He seems to want to get to whatever clinching moment he envisioned in his head when he took over this book as fast as he can – damn the set up and the build. His narrative suffers from this over-eagerness, the reading becomes a little jumbled and confused in the rush.
It's not bad, it just could be better.
But whatever faults this book has are easily overlooked by just fucking looking at it. Like I said, de la Torre and Baron are building an aesthetic all their own. It rises off the page like steam from a sewer, full of potent portents, foulness, fecundity, and fear, and yet in the light of the silence of the night streets there is no denying its beauty, its essential ur-nature, its tendrils snaking into a dichotomous reaction of revulsion and awe.
Shadowman has me. I'll go long haul with this book, regardless of the route, as long as de la Torre and Barron keep doing what they are doing here. The vistas are so goddamn beautiful.