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Shock is an Aftershock Comics anthology that collects brief stories by a ton of comic creators from Neil Gaiman, to Marguerite Bennett, to Cullen Bunn and more. Most of the stories employ some kind of twist or otherwise try and shock the reader, as the title suggests, but this isn’t necessarily a requirement to be included in the collection. With such a huge collection of comic creators, does this anthology succeed in collecting a group of stories that shock and delight?
Sadly, I can’t recommend this collection to any but the most diehard Aftershock fans or fans of a particular creator who is included. Most of the stories attempt to do what world building they can with what few pages they have but don’t succeed, usually because of an overabundance of exposition in dialogue or narration rather than presentation in art. The worst examples try to pack too many ideas into the four or so pages they have, which robs the story of any narrative action and instead leaves it as more of a scene overfilled with world building where nothing much happens or leaves any meaningful impact. It may almost be a cliché to say, “show, don’t tell,” but it’s a cliché that could’ve done a lot to help a good number of the tales included here. Many attempts to tell a compelling tale in an interesting world just come off as clumsy or terribly paced due to the info-dumping by the script that left no room for the stories to breathe.
A couple stories even ended up leaving a bad taste in my mouth. One is about a man committing a mass shooting in a movie theater while the other invokes the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center. In the first story, the narration feels like it’s trying to convey horror in that the killer’s extreme ego and twisted rationale is something to be repelled by. However, the way in which the artist represents both the killer in the real world as well as the symbolic, world-destroying version in his mind make it seem like he is being drawn more badass than reprehensible. I understand what the story was trying to convey, but the art makes it feel more trivialized, perhaps even glorified, than what I can only assume was intended.
The second story that rubbed me the wrong way involves a daughter whose father died in the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. I understand that the story is attempting to show the immense love a parent has for their child but situating the narrative within the 9/11 attacks feels more like a gimmick meant to buy the reader’s sympathy by default. Rather than letting the story do its emotional work, the creative team relies heavily on the imagery of the Twin Towers to inspire sadness in lieu of developing that feeling through effective writing. Because of the clumsy execution, both stories I’ve mentioned use real world tragedies in what felt like poor taste — and not the kind worth adventuring in. Perhaps with more page time their creative teams would’ve been able to treat these subjects with more nuance.
The stories that succeed most in this collection are the ones that provide the least exposition and just let the storytelling fill in the gaps. For example, the story “Invasion” written and illustrated by Francesco Francavilla is a brief, pulpy alien tale that serves a quick laugh and doesn’t try to overwhelm the reader with full histories of the aliens and where they’re from. A story that employed a heavier theme was “Dumb Bitch,” written by Marguerite Bennett with art by Hoyt Silva and letters by Marshall Dillon. Though the story centers around domestic abuse, it does so by keeping the story grounded in realism, even though it resolves in a Poe-esque magic twist. Rather than romanticizing the abuse, the victim’s experience is kept at the center with no attempt to make their suffering appear tragically beautiful as in one of the earlier mentioned stories.
Though few to none of the stories’ scripts left a lasting impression on me, the artwork for every story is well executed. Even if I took issue with how the artwork worked alongside the story, there were few to no awkward faces or clumsily drawn lines and the colors always feel appropriate to the tone of their respective tale. My favorite example in the collection is Michael Gaydos’s work on “Dead City,” a brief story he wrote and illustrated. His painterly style fills the pages in colors that appear to bleed into one another while still showing distinct, expertly rendered line art. His illustrations here are gorgeous and bleak without looking muddy or dim and the last page of “Dead City” is a print I’d love to have on my wall.
As I said earlier, I can’t say this is a collection I recommend grabbing. It has an occasionally noteworthy moment or two with regards to art, but none of the stories left a real impact on me and some even pushed me away. Diehard fans of some of the creators may want to grab it for the sake of collecting, but even then, the price is a bit high for the sake of one story you may not even enjoy.
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