Wraith is one of the creepiest comics I have ever read, and it’s because somehow Joe Hill knows which nerve ending to apply pressure to.
IDW Publishing is releasing the hardcover bound edition which collects all the issues of this stunning miniseries, and if you’re a horror fan and you haven’t read this title yet, picking up the hardcover affords the perfect way to see what the buzz over this title has been about.
In the first issue contained in this volume, the particular pressure point he’s tweaking is children. Being a father of two girls, when I see a frame of a little Francine Flynn in the backseat of Charlie Manx’s 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith, weeping her eyes out while he smiles and tells her about Christmasland… well, it’s enough to make my skin crawl, my hair stand on end, and above all: keep reading.
This is actually a prequel story to Hill’s excellent novel N0S4A2 – a pun from a car license plate that you can probably figure out (but just in case, click here if not). Charlie Manx is a horrifying monster who is gifted with unusual abilities, but also with an obscene and unnatural fondness for children. If you’ve read N0S4A2, then I’m sure you already know more about Charlie Manx than I’m letting on, but if you haven’t, then the first story in this volume gives you more than enough information to read about Manx with sufficient distaste.
Artist Charles Wilson III portrays Manx as a wiry, rat-like creature with a mouthful of menacing teeth. While the title of the comic obviously refers to the car that Manx drives, it’s clear that Wilson has also incorporated some of the title into Manx’s appearance. The art is shaky and undefined in some places, but then again, so is Manx. Without reading N0S4A2, Wilson appropriately envisions Manx as a leering predator who is able to somehow exist in one world while managing to enter another.
What makes this comic even scarier is that, somehow…the children smile.
The second chapter in this volume is a totally different story. In this issue, we meet three convicts in a van being transported to their new correctional facility.
This is a different slice of pie. Whereas the first issue was a character piece, setting us up to fear Charlie Manx, the second issue is the first part of a larger story. The main villain is Denis Sykes, carnival geek extraordinaire, and he has a plan. In the meantime, there’s a lot of other different characters and backstory: the teacher, convicted of a crime we have yet to hear about; the film director who raped a teenager and who knows someone who can contribute to Syke’s master plan; and the two correctional officers who get more than they bargained for. It’s a slow burning start that is linked back to the first chapter at the end.
The third chapter is where the action finally becomes centered in Christmasland, basically a nightmarish combination of the Neverland from Peter Pan and Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. This is where Wraith pulls out all the stops and goes from the creepy foreboding in Chapter/Issue 1 to a no-holds-barred horror freak show. Rest assured that if you’re a reader who is unimpressed with much of what passes for “horror” in comics, this will horrify you (in the best possible way).
But Wraith is not without heart either. There’s something about the earnest manner in which Hill brings his heroes together in the midst of hell, and then has them bump minds to figure out a way to exploit a weakness in the monster that torments them, that evokes the work of his father, Stephen King (yes, in case you didn’t know).
In short, Wraith is a fabulous volume of gooseflesh-inducing terror, and if you’re not already acquainted with the mind of one of the premier writers in both comics and literature today, this is an excellent way to do so.
Ding ding. Someone serve me up another slice of Hill please?