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Playback:STL Reviews Radical’s Abattoir #3 and Driver #3

Reviews by Sarah Boslaugh

I’m not the first to comment on the similarities between film and comics, but it does seem to me that we’re seeing more crossover than was the case in the past. I don’t mean in terms of someone from the movie business taking a property from the comics business and adapting it as a film (an enterprise which seems to fail at least as often as it succeeds), but that I’ve been reading a lot of comics lately which have been designed from the start to also work as movies. Both series reviewed here fit that description and both have creative staff who also work in the film business (Driver for the Dead’s John Heffernan wrote the screenplay for Snakes on a Plane and Abattoir’s Darren Lynn Bousman wrote the screenplay for Saw II and directed Saw II-IV). I’m not complaining: in fact, I’d love it if some of these guys would branch out to television because I think we’re overdue for another adult horror series on premium cable. Seriously, I first read the line “WHAT’S NEXT, HERO?” in one of these comics as “WHAT’S NEXT, HBO?” Anyway, here’s to success on multiple platforms because a good story can always use another telling.

The first round in the action/adventure/horror saga of the aptly-named Alabaster Graves is nicely polished off in issue #3 of Driver for the Dead while the conclusion of this episode also lays the groundwork for a sequel. In issues 1 and 2 we met Alabaster, a hearse driver who specializes in more unusual clients including vampires, angry ghosts, and the undead in all their manifestations. His latest job is to transport the body of deceased spirit healer Mose Freeman (an obvious bit of precasting—the character even looks like Morgan Freeman) from Shreveport to New Orleans. Mose’s granddaughter Marissa invites herself along, they get waylaid by Uriah Fallow who is both Dr. Frankenstein and the Monster (he steals body parts from the living to keep himself alive), and we learn that Mose (and thus also Marissa) is a descendent of legendary voodoo queen Marie Laveau.

The form of issue #3 goes like this: battle—back-story—back-story—battle—conclusion and set-up for the next installment. Yes it does feel a bit mechanical, although each individual part works well enough by itself. Alabaster’s first battle, with the legendary werewolf the Loup Garoux, is so well done (note to writers: suspense preceding action is so-o-o-o much better than just action piled on top of action) that the second battle (with Uriah, duh) pales in comparison, although it almost makes up for the lack of variety with an overload of creepiness. Alabaster’s back-story is told in a dream sequence which adds a layer of mystery to the proceedings, while Uriah’s relies more on references to the historical reality of slavery and the Civil War but both get the job done.

Leonardo Manco’s art remains a strong point in this series, creating an atmosphere of gloom and decay in a world where it seems absolutely reasonable that people can be snatched out of graves and pressed into service as evil henchmen and even silver bullets won’t always kill a werewolf. The action/adventure aspect of the story is also well-portrayed with a variety of imaginative layouts and good shot selection (OK, it really does look like a storyboard at times) and some full-page designs which are really impressive (and would make good movie posters—you see what happens when you let your thinking proceed down this road). I’m not sure about the character design for Uriah, however, or at least the costuming choice at the start of this issue—the badass longcoat thing makes sense but his resemblance to Charlie Daniels just makes me giggle. You can see a preview of Driver for the Dead #3 here:

We’ve only reached the midway point with Abattoir, a six-issue series about beleaguered real estate agent Richard Ashwalt who has been saddled with the chore of selling a house where a horrifying murder took place. He has an interested buyer named Jebediah Crone—in fact the buyer seems more interested than the seller in closing the deal, post-haste—but something about the setup makes Richard uneasy. Then inexplicable bad stuff starts happening to him and he goes to the house seeking answers.

As issue #3 opens, Richard is under police investigation and has disappeared, leaving his wife and child distraught. We learn from two different sources that Jebediah Crone has a habit of buying and reselling houses in which murders have taken place (and are treated to a gory re-enactment of one such murder as recalled by another real estate agent) and pick up a few more pieces of information including the fact that in 50 years Jebediah Crone has shown no signs of aging. Story-wise, pressure is building that can only be released with an explanation about how all these scattered clues fit together, and the issue ends with a humdinger of a cliffhanger which is so corny in a self-aware sort of way that I don’t feel embarrassed using those terms in close conjunction.

Despite the horror elements, there’s something almost wholesome about Abattoir. The strong family element in the story keeps it grounded in a familiar world and conveys the feeling that while certain aspects of life may be evil or inexplicable, on the whole the world of the story makes sense in the way that we expect it to. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rob Levin and Troy Peteri are big Stephen King fans because it feels very much like a story he’d do, and quite unlike the world of a series like Driver for the Dead in which normal as we know it barely exists. The art by Bing Cansino, Rodell Noora and Dennis Calero is a little wooden, particularly in the family scenes which seem a little too close to simple adaptations of reference photos. Every other location used in this story is made to look more interesting than Richard’s home, so maybe domesticity is just not their strong point. The art is much more interesting in scenes set in the potentially-haunted house, and it really comes alive in the dream sequences or any time a supernatural evil is present. The cover of #3, like those from previous issues, is more jokey than the art in the issue itself and suggests a horror-comedy rather than straight-up supernatural horror. You can see a preview here:

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