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'Spectregraph' is a William Castle Terror with a Blockbuster Budget

We review the new cosmically gothic horror comic from James Tynion IV and Christian Ward.


Spectregraph 1 James Tynion IV Christian Ward Review

The scariest element in Spectregraph # 1, the new DSTLRY comic from writer James Tynion IV and artist Christian Ward, has been hidden from you, and I do not dare ruin the dreadful surprise. You've been told that it involves a California mansion on a hill, an angry examination of our decaying capitalism, and a whole heap of ghost guts (see the splashy red image above). All those elements are present in Spectregraph's first issue, but the gnarliest horror and the most stressful ticking clock propelling the scares have remained in the shadows. Let's leave it there for now, but please hit me up after you read the book, and let's talk about that horrifying nine-panel grid.


Spectregraph suggests a playful passion for William Castle's films, such as House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler, and 13 Ghosts. These were movies made on the cheap, where dastardly humans bump against the supernatural only to reveal their poisonous nature post-collision. It's easy to guess where Vincent Price might fit into Spectregraph or even a Straight-Jacket raving Joan Crawford. However, there's nothing cheap about Christian Ward's art.


He's always been a next-level artist, but since Batman: City of Madness, it feels like Ward has impossibly upped his game. With Spectregraph, he's seemingly subverting his sequentials, challenging expectations even when leaning into them. Spectregraph does more than page-turn jump-scares. The stress of the comic rests on its pacing and how panels trade off each other, forcing the main character and the reader to remember precisely what is at stake. It may be a world-ending event, but the jury is still out on that. It's definitely a world-ending event for one person, well, two people, and that's far more relatable and shameful. But there I go, drifting too much into revealing what I don't want to spoil for you. Back it up, back it up.


Spectregraph opens in 1967. Several rich folks gather to discuss Ambrose Everett Hall's profane actions. He takes their concerns with little interest and belittles their fears. Jump to 2024, Hall is dead, and his clockwork mansion sits on the market. Janie races to the house for...reasons. She has a prospective buyer who needs a quick tour and a look-see at all the necessary mechanics before they pull the trigger. It shouldn't take long. It better not take long. Of course, it takes long.


The best thing about the comic is that it never becomes plotty-plot-plot-plot. Spectregraph is all character and style. You're invested in Janie's plight after a few panels. We've seen the preview art, and we've read the synopsis. We know the situation she's plunging toward will be catastrophic -- ghost guts!


My curiosity currently thrives on whether or not the following issues will maintain the extremely stressful device that drives the first issue. The event that occurs in this comic's climax will undoubtedly preoccupy Janie's present, but the big question in her mind has nothing to do with what's genuinely terrifying her. Will the supernatural overwhelm what she holds dear outside Hall's clockwork nightmare? I hope not.

Quickie Review: Spectregraph # 1 carries the trappings of the best B-movie ghost stories, but James Tynion IV strives for larger fears, both contemporary and universal. Christian Ward proves why comics are the greatest medium on the planet. His killer illustrations provide more than a Blockbuster budget to this haunting, as he embraces the tools exclusive to the art form. In a year already populated with some incredible first issues, Spectregraph has the best.

 

Spectregraph # 1


Spectregraph 1 James Tynion IV Christian Ward
Image Credit © 2024 DSTLRY

Writer: James Tynion IV

Artist: Christian Ward

Colorist: Christian Ward

Letterer: Aditya Bidikar

Publisher: DSTLRY

Price: $8.99

On Sale: 4/24/24


Synopsis: For years, the mansion has sat strangely, nestled into the coastline just a short drive north of Los Angeles. Rumors have haunted the place for years. Its owner a titan of American industry, with a strange fascination in the occult and the paranormal. For decades, the richest men and women in the country have whispered to each other, trying to understand what he was building alone in that mansion for all those years. And now finally, with his death, and his estate finally open for sale... They are eager to find out for themselves.


Two of the most celebrated visionaries of the medium, multiple-Eisner Award winners James Tynion IV (THE NICE HOUSE ON THE LAKE, SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN, W0RLDTR33) and Christian Ward (BATMAN: CITY OF MADNESS, INVISIBLE KINGDOM) invite you into the world of SPECTREGRAPH, a haunting, cerebral horror novel that peels back the layers of America's opulent wealth and uncovers the rot underneath. But be careful: once you enter, you may never leave.


NEW SERIES DEBUT from DSTLRY! Modern masters JAMES TYNION IV and CHRISTIAN WARD join forces to bring you their next horror classic. A ghost story steeped in the decay of a century of capitalism.


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