The Architect original graphic novella
Writer: Mike Baron
Artist/Cover artist: Andie Tong
Colors: Mike Kilgore
Letters: Scott Bieser
Publisher: Big Head Press
Price: $9.95 US
Mike Baron is an award-winning comics writer with whom newer readers might not be familiar, and to be honest, I don’t think I’ve read a lot of his work either. I’ve read precious little of The Badger, the character for which he is best known, and there hasn’t been that much Nexus material available in recent years either. I’ve probably most familiar with Baron as the first writer to take The Flash when the title was relaunched in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths in the late 1980s, featuring the Wally West incarnation of the character. With this small-press project, Baron clearly demonstrates that he’s comfortable as a writer outside the super-hero genre. The Architect is an entertaining horror story, and with it, Baron shows that he has a soft spot for the horror comics of yesteryear and cheesy but amusing horror flicks as well. The plot hinges on a lot of coincidences, but they work within the context of the supernatural elements of the plot. Where this project goes awry is with its visuals. British artist Andie Tong offers some solid work here, but his style strikes me as a poor match for the darker tone for which the story strives.
Architect Gil Hopper learns that he is the long-lost heir to the legacy of Roark Dexter Smith, a Renaissance man who disappeared in 1970 under mysterious circumstances. Like his son, Smith was a master architect, a visionary known the world over for his unusual designs. Smith had a number of other interests as well, such as the biology of fungi and the occult. Gil is tasked with restoring and finishing Bluff House, a mansion embedded in the hills in the Wisconsin wilderness that was meant to be Smith’s masterpiece, but he and his friends soon discover that the expansive home is not as empty and abandoned as people thought it was.
I’m a bit torn when it comes to Marvel UK artist Andie Tong’s art on this graphic novella. He brings the gory moments in the story to life quite effectively while never providing so much detail so as to turn the reader’s stomach. The book is script-heavy, but his art nevertheless manages to hold its own on pages that are laden with dialogue balloons and captions. Tong’s work here reminds me of several other artists’ styles, such as Kyle Hotz, Randy Green and Humberto Ramos. His more exaggerated approach suits the horror elements, but his wide-eyed style also boasts a brighter tone that seems better suited to the world of traditional super-hero comics.
Mike Kilgore’s colors seem more in line with a lighter tone as well. For the most part, he employs bright, vibrant colors, full of energy, but the story calls for a darker, more eerie look. The colors (and the line art) really could have contributed much more in the way of tension and suspense had shadows and muted, unnatural tones been included. The lettering is also, unfortunately, distracting, and I’m not just referring to how it threatens to obscure or block the artwork at times. Some narrative captions are meant to capture different voices, but no visual cue to differentiate those voices is offered. Also, the typesetting used to convey Thea’s computer journal entry is jarring as compared to the rest of the more traditional lettering. Furthermore, that narrative device, the laptop journal, is used for only one panel; I don’t get why Baron opted to break out of the other narrative approaches for such a brief scene.
The group of 30-somethings who venture into Bluff House is all-too-conveniently geared to tap into certain plot elements. Gil just happens to be an architect despite his ignorance of his heritage. Gil’s girlfriend just happens to be a scientist who specializes in fungi. His buddy’s gal pal just happens to be a Wiccan with a certain sensitivity to dark magic. But the supernatural atmosphere that slowly creeps into the book makes it so much easier to accept that This Is How It Was Meant To Be. The reader is able to accept the coincidences as the manipulations of destiny or something. Furthermore, the coincidental characterization reminds me of the sort of fare one finds in guilty-pleasure B-movies.
What really made this story work for me, though, was the first chapter. We get to know the “villain” of the piece, Roark Dexter Smith, and while it’s clear he’s corrupt and even detestable, he stood out as an interesting character. Baron writes him as more than an obsessed architect. He’s a musician, a botanist and much more. I got the impression his arrogance was well earned. I didn’t realize as I was reading the first chapter than I was delving into a horror story. The moments in which the character comes off as almost admirable misleads the reader so that the more formulaic horror-genre elements later on almost take him or her by surprise. 6/10