Of all the standards of horror fiction those that touch on our childhood fears have a particular resonance. They represent a time in our lives when the wider world was unknown and seemingly unknowable, when our surrounding environment was still full of mysteries, and when our imaginations and our feelings of vulnerability were inextricably linked. The Closet, a new miniseries from Image Comics, embodies those feelings, taking us back to that time when the bedroom light being turned off was enough to elicit pure terror, when monsters potentially lurked under the bed, and something evil might just be waiting for us in the closet.
Issue #1 of The Closet is largely all set-up but as opening chapters go it’s steeped in tension and an undeniable sense of building dread. Thom and Maggie are planning a major, life-changing move across the country with their young son Jamie. But, against the backdrop of their own volatile relationship and constant bickering, something more disturbing is happening in Jamie’s life. Despite all their efforts to convince Jamie that the monster he believes lives in his bedroom closet is make-believe the reality may be something very different…
This is one of those first instalments where paradoxically not much happens and yet at the same time everything does. James Tynion IV’s taut script cuts the action to the bone but is all the more atmospheric and moody for it, jumping perspectives from the adult philosophising of the worldweary and somewhat thoughtless Thom to the child’s eye view of the world of Jamie to great effect. Where this story is ultimately going remains to be seen. It could branch off into any number of directions from supernatural horror to psychological allegory, through to pure sci-fi. But this brooding opener certainly captures the reader’s attention, leaving them intrigued by the questions it poses and the mysteries it establishes.
Variant cover by Michael Avon Oeming
Artist Gavin Fullerton’s page structures are key to ramping up the sense of terror in The Closet #1. The incremental sequential use of “landscape” panels gives the story an added aura of the claustrophobic and the confined, with panel-to-panel dramatic pacing perfect throughout. So much about Thom’s personality is communicated through visual characterisation in the opening bar sequence, while Jamie’s fear of the closet itself is depicted with a quiet power that cleverly blends both the innocuous and the terrifying.
Adding to this eeriness is the ever reliable Chris O’Halloran’s choice of colour palette. Not exactly muted but carefully considered to give every page an atmosphere of the oppressive and the disarming, ensuring that the encroaching darkness affects the reader on an almost instinctual level. Tom Napolitano’s lettering guides the reader through the multiple perspectives of the characters and their interactions, with one particular lettering/speech balloon choice late in the issue positively sending a shiver down the audience’s spine.
Where this team go with the book’s premise will ultimately define its critical worth but this is strong first issue, taking a not unfamiliar horror tradition and imbuing it with a new sense of urgency. If you like your horror comics in a serial format then The Closet #1 is definitely worth checking out. An excellent example of how to use the unique storytelling properties of comics to evoke specific reactions in your audience.
James Tynion IV (W), Gavin Fullerton (A), Chris O’Halloran (C), Tom Napolitano (L), Dylan Todd (D), Greg Lockard (E), Michael Avon Oeming & Declan Shalvey (Variant CAs) • Image Comics, $3.99
Review by Andy Oliver