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Fanboy of Fear Chris Gage Review by
Chris Gage
WRITER: John Rozum
ARTISTS: Jesus Saiz (pencils) & Jimmy Palmiotti (inks)
8-issue miniseries
$2.50 each

Combining horror and humor has never worked too well for me. It seems like either
1. the humor is derived from extreme violence, which can work when done right (see the EVIL DEAD movies) but is usually just lame, or
2. the humor taken to the point where it undermines any chills, negating any true horror in the story. Every now and then the combination works; Mike Mignola's HELLBOY and Kelley Jones' THE HAMMER come to mind. Mignola keeps his humor subtle, and Jones works largely because his bizarre, disturbing artwork maintains a consistent dark tone. But these are rare successes; usually, marrying horror with humor results in a bastard offspring that is neither fish nor fowl. So previews for the new Vertigo series,
MIDNIGHT, MASS. , didn't exactly fill me with optimism. But after reading the first issue, I can say that this is one experiment that might just get up and walk, if lightning strikes just right and Igor turns the proper dials.

MIDNIGHT, MASS. (clever title) is a coastal town in Massachusetts that has a long history of supernatural happenings. The story opens with the arrival of Jenny, who is beginning a new job as assistant to Adam and Julia Kadmon, the glamorous, world-famous First Couple of paranormal investigators (think Scully and Mulder meet Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston). As she drives up to their home, a goblin creature bursts through the window, and it just gets stranger from there. Jenny's new job comes with a plethora of warnings: don't go in the woods across the street or you'll never be seen again; never open the door in the basement or all hell will literally break loose; etc., etc. On the bright side, she does get medical and dental benefits.

The first issue is mostly spent setting the scene, introducing the players, and planting seeds for future stories. Jenny is cute and sympathetic, and effectively serves as the reader's POV character; hints about a mysterious past of her own add a nice touch of intrigue. The Kadmons are not really delved into in this issue; they're a bit distant and mysterious, though nice enough to Jenny (sort of a kinder, gentler version of Simon Archard in RUSE). From what I've heard, future issues will humanize them more, and show that they're not as perfect and infallible as the world believes. The best character in this book is the town of Midnight itself; the last page, which features a "tourist brochure" touting its eerie landmarks and history, was my favorite part of the issue. The premise and setting provide more than enough possibilities for good stories.

So, how's the execution? Well, I'll start with a mention of an often overlooked member of a comic's creative team. Hiring Ken Bruzenak as letterer was the best move DC could have made. Ken, one of the few letterers who still works by hand rather than computer, is a true genius at taking the lettering beyond a mere tool and making it a crucial part of the story. He's not given the chance to cut loose here the way he is in, say, MR. MONSTER (and that wouldn't be appropriate, Mr. Monster being an outright humor book), but I hope he does get to show off his chops more in future installments.

The art is good, not great; I think it reflects a bit of the schizophrenia of the horror/humor premise. Jenny is drawn a little too "cutesy" for a horror book, and the goblin monster isn't very scary, looking like a humanoid version of the Rat Creatures in Jeff Smith's BONE (I felt sorry for it when it got killed, it was kind of cuddly - which I doubt was the creators' intention). However, a supernatural assassin that turns up later in the issue is creepy as hell - a naked human with a third arm in place of a head - it is depicted perfectly, with an eerie Lovecraftian quality, and the sound it makes by rubbing its fifteen fingers together (Bruzenak's HRN HRN HRN sound effect at the bottom of every panel is perfect) is nicely disconcerting. Hopefully, as the series goes on, things will jell and become more consistent, and everything will be as effective as that scene.

As for the story, Rozum definitely has imagination to spare: in fact, there's almost too much to absorb, but that often happens with first issues. The luxury of having 8 issues to work with rather than the usual four should give him room for more character development than your typical miniseries, which is good. For me, the biggest question mark as to whether this series will succeed or fail has to do with the tone. I realize this is a matter of personal taste, but I'm not crazy about the witty "Moonlighting-style" (God, I'm dating myself) banter between the Kadmons; it's not overdone in this issue, but the risk is there. Mark Waid does this kind of thing well, but even he goes overboard sometimes, and writers who try to imitate him always fail. I'd much prefer that Rozum follow Mike Mignola's example of telling a good, scary story with subtle humor that arises from situations and character rather than one-liners. With this set-up, there are plenty of opportunities for evoking a smile (I can just see a bunch of Red Sox fans trying to use black magic to remove the Curse of the Bambino and getting more than they bargained for), but it should always be followed by a chill - the kind of humor that comes out of taking a shortcut through a graveyard with your buddies and trying to act like you're not scared shitless.

Overall, MIDNIGHT, MASS., shows a lot of promise, and this old Bay State native gives it three "wicked retahded" Rabid Fanboys. Check it out, it's worth a look.

Review copyright 2002 by E.C.McMullen Jr.

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Ruth Fletcher Gage.

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