There are some comic covers that immediately grab you and insist you read the comic within, and there are others that lay their souls bare. It's rare though that those two talents meet, but Twisted Dark is a delightfully perverse creature. Neil Gibson's self-published volumes have met with high critical acclaim since their release last year, and with the third volume soon to hit the shelves, it's a fine time to crack the spines.
As a fan of short stories and horror, and an aficionado of sting-in-the-tail stories such as the Pan Book of Horror Stories, I set the bar high when it comes to being enjoyably creeped out. The opening to Volume 2 mentions that initial feedback of the first book was that it was too twisted, which had me cautiously optimistic, and as it turns out, both volumes are a horrible delight.
Hit the jump for my full spoiler-free review!
Each story has a different artist, lending a wonderfully disjointed feel to the volumes, but with the twisted theme binding everything together. Some twists are genuinely surprising, others more horrible for their inevitability, with varying lengths ensuring that you are never quite sure which one you are dealing with. Volume 2 purports to be a lighter read, with non-horror stories thrown into the mix and several without stings... the result however, is that endings are even more unpredictable with the darkness somehow concentrated in those tales with spikes. Clever stuff.
The plotting in each is strong, and I should stress that this is horror of the psychological kind - no werewolves, monsters or ghosts, only the sadistic cruelty of humankind. Which, personally, is the kind I find most unsettling of all. Gibson has brought a realism to the page, and his setting is global. Nowhere is safe.
Stand out stories include Routine (illustrated by Caspar Wijngaard), an unsettling take on the cabin in the woods theme; The Pushman (illustrated by Jan Wijngaard), a deceptively gentle tale; Becoming a Man (illustrated by Antonio Balanquit Jr), a tense coming of age story with added peril; and Popular (illustrated by Caspar Wijngaard), a disconcerting look at fame in the internet age.
The greatest shock perhaps is that this is Gibson's début; Twisted Dark reads like a professional graphic collection from an established horror writer, not a self-published stab in the dark that many first time comic creators attempt. Each story is complete with no stray ends or plot holes, each leaving you wanting more and urging you into the next tale.
While the art throughout is of high quality, Casper Wijngaard in particular deserves special mention for his flawless work in various styles, each utterly compelling. At times Wijngaard's work channels the sure hard lines of Rob Guillory, at others the more delicate but bestial work of Karl Kerschl, and finally the more scratchy darkened work of Jeff Lemire. That each of Wijngaard's stories are so uniquely different but of such high standard is remarkable - someone at Vertigo or Image needs to call this guy, stat, and while you're at it, hook Gibson up as the writer of their twisted creation.
In short, Twisted Dark knocks many professional titles out the ballpark, and is well worth picking up! Gibson's website provides full previews of several of the stories, just to whet your appetites.