Dark Horse Books.
Released September 11th 2013
I should start things by saying something that too few Brits would confess; I love Halloween. Everything from the cheap scares, costumes and Candy, through to the historical background and spiritual significance. The horror movies, the ghost stories and the Halloween Specials (the latter we would usually get over here sometime around February!) I love them all. So when this 82 page Halloween book came up, I couldn't help myself from diving in.
The Halloween Legion: The Great Goblin Invasion tells the story of an unlikely group of heroes who face a UFO menace in a quiet and sleepy community. So far so generic, and expectations are set even lower when character descriptions tell us that the main character (in this, the one we relate to because she's the most human looking) is a supernatural orphan with a mysterious past and awesome powers who's discovering that the hardest part of her life is trying to be a teenage girl. It's all very Buffy then, but with Halloween costumes which, it would seem, is all I needed to keep reading.
And I'm glad I did, the story is wonderfully told in a way that keeps up the threat while still being accessible to children. The characters are well realised and their motivations and relationships are expressed through some interesting dialogue rather than by shoehorning information into unnatural conversations. Action scenes are handled nicely with the first one doing a particularly good job of setting a tone for the book while also introducing us to the team dynamic. While superhero quips aren't quite Spider-Man in their cleverness they do instead read like actual quips from people who are a little preoccupied with a fight for their life. The pacing too is incredibly tight for the most part with lots of fighty-fightey perfectly balanced with enough wordy-wordy to keep all audiences satisfied. That said, the narrative isn't perfect.
There is an over reliance on certain storytelling tropes that cheapen the experience some. Both good guys and bad have Drama Powers that The Tick would be proud of where battles are won or lost depending on what the plot requires rather than any realistic portrayal of powers. This goes as far as to introduce seemingly new powers to win a battle that just leaves us wondering why they weren't used earlier when they would have cut the invasion much shorter.
New and unexpected powers include the ability to cheapen a tender moment of sacrifice and, perhaps most annoyingly, the power of unsubstantiated exposition. One of the characters gains sudden insight into the motivation of a threat with no real justification beyond the fact that the threat of the day, the UFOs filled with small non-speaking monsters, lacks a Borg Queen style speaker to tell us these things directly. I did find myself forgiving those things as I just sat back and enjoyed being told a fun Halloween story. And then there's the ending which was both bitter-sweet and heartwarming.
The fun story and interesting dialog are brought to live through some beautiful artwork throughout the book. The style feels very much like a children's book initially; the linework is rough to the point of sketchy and if I'm being critical I would point out that details like faces and even the dimensions of body parts vary not only from page to page but also from left arm to right arm. It's a style that initially had me wishing someone would just come along and ink it properly but, after a few pages, its charm won me over and I simply stopped caring that legs occasionally finished in scribbled stumps instead of feet. In fact the worst elements were the ones that probably had the most polish; the UFOs are basically dark, over blurred blobs in the sky that look like they were done on a computer completely separate to the hand-drawn appearance of the rest of the art. I can see where they were going with it, but it just felt too different to the established style to work.
But the colouring. The colouring of this book is simply beautiful to look at.
In case you haven't clicked yet, I am going to recommend you go out and get this book. Once you've read it for the story I recommend you go through and read it again looking at each individual page. Every one of them is a unified piece of art in its own right. The whole page perfectly captures the colours in that scene. There are no paged that break this; if a frame starts with sunset gold you will see that on the entire page and it works so incredibly well.
After the second read, have a look through the pages as they work with each other. With one exception I'll mention later you can follow the passage of time through the use of colours; you can watch the sun set, the darkening night and the promise of a new day expressed simply through the way the colour scheme subtly changes from page to page. It's one of those things that's so subtle it's easy to miss, but the actual effect on the reading experience is genuinely pleasing to see.
The Halloween Legion is a fantastic seasonal read and I can't recommend it enough to people with any childlike fondness for the season. From what I can tell this is a one off; a quick google search revealed a prose paperback but little else. I do know that I would love to see more stories with these characters in the future though. There are hints at future adventures in this book, though. The 'mysterious pasts' of these characters is never really explored and the one daytime scene that breaks up the flow of colours seems to exist purely to set up a school environment complete with a menacing adult figure with suspiciously grey skin. Pay attention, Dark Horse, if you print any more of these books I will be there with money in hand.
Five cackling Jack-o-lanterns for a wonderful read that's suitable for the Halloween kid in all of us. Even the actual kids.