Writer: Pornsak Pichetshote
Artist: Aaron Campbell
Colors/Editor: José Villarrubia
Letters: Jeff Powell
Cover artists: Campbell (regular)/Jae Lee (variant)
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US
Promotional material from Image Comics about this new release suggests that this comic book marks the first time that Pornsak Pichetshote — a respected editor in the industry, formerly with DC’s Vertigo imprint — has written one. That’s actually a mistake; Pichetshote penned Flashpoint: Green Arrow Industries #1, published back in 2011. Given the strength of the characterization and plotting in this new project, I think maybe I might have to go back and look at that one shot from DC Comics. Pichetshote offers a riveting story that blends the ugliness of bigotry with the supernatural scars of murder. He achieves a tremendous balance between grounded elements and surreal ones, but it’s really the former aspects of the book that will ultimately win over readers.
Things are going pretty well for Aisha. She’s relishing her role as a stepmom to young Kris, and she finally seems to be connecting with her mother-in-law, who had issues with her son marrying a Muslim woman. But Aisha is haunted every night by disturbing dreams that are growing in intensity. She dismisses the notion that they flow from a recent mass murder in the apartment building in which she resides with her family, but she soon discovers the ugliness that has figuratively haunted the building for some time may actually be doing so literally as well.
Artist Aaron Campbell clearly has a strong eye for anatomy and a realistic style, but there’s a gritty, noir sensibility to his work that bolsters the mature elements of the story and the unsettling, eerie aspects as well. Campbell’s efforts here reminded me a fair bit of the work we’ve seen over the years from Michael Gaydos on Alias and Jessica Jones. The most striking visual element in the book is the misshapen, hideous manifestation of the supernatural side of the story in the third act of this comic. Colorist José Villarrubia sets that element apart from the more grounded facets of the story with an unnatural orange glow. Most of the book is bathed in muted, depressed tones as well, slowly adding to the underlying tension throughout the book.
I found the character of Leslie, Aisha’s mother-in-law, to be well written and nuanced. Early in the book, Leslie clearly cares for Aisha and Kris, and when the audience learns on her background of bigotry, her evolution as a person is an encouraging element. However, Pichetshote makes it clear she’s not wholly evolved, and the writer provides evidence that she’s not to be fully trusted, just has her son argues in the script. But I like that Leslie isn’t portrayed as cartoonishly prejudiced; she’s much more believable and interesting this way.
While primarily a ghost story and an exploration of racism in America, this book also offers something of a mystery. We learn of a mass murder in Aisha’s building, but Pichetshote plays his cards close to the vest. The nature of the killings and the reasons for them are kept from the audience for now. I definitely wanted to learn more about that situation and how it could spawn something seemingly unholy.
What really makes this comic book worth checking out is Pichetshote’s well-realized protagonist. Aisha is eminently likeable. She endeavors to see the good in a woman who viewed her through only lens of hate. She’s a woman of her word, and despite the nightmares with which she’s contending, she’s an optimist, but never at any point would one suggest she was naive. She’s bright and kind and confident, and one can’t help but hope she will survive and surmount the unimaginable challenges ahead of her. The reader is driven to cheer for her, making the audience invested in her story. 9/10