“What’s the most scared you’ve ever been?”
Fear. Horror. Violence. Trauma. Something is Killing the Children is a book that’s going to evoke a lot of emotions, very few of which you’d choose to feel in an ordinary setting. Horror comics are the new hit genre in the comic industry today. Whether it be in the Big Two with books like Marvel’s Immortal Hulk or DC’s Justice League Dark, or other publishers such as Image’s Ice Cream Man, Vault’s The Plot and Resonant and more, horror comics are taking the world by storm, and BOOM! is entering the fray with Something is Killing the Children. It’s pretty rare that we get a horror title this personal; the protagonists of horror stories tend to be one type of person. Lately, however, we’ve seen a more diverse group of people be prominently featured in horror comics, and the genre’s been better for it. It’s only when you learn that the main character’s name is James, just like writer James Tynion IV, that they share a childhood in small town Wisconsin, that they’re both members of the LGBTQ+ community, and that there’s even an artistic resemblance, that you begin to realize that this title is something special. It’s the kind of book that’s reflective of more than just a trend or current state of the genre; it shows the possibilities of what stories and the genre can achieve.
Set in the small town of Archer’s Peak, Wisconsin, the book addresses monsters and youth. It’s just two basic ideas, but combining them yields so much potential. The issue fuses these two concepts together to ask questions about who and what our monsters were and looked like when we were young. What were we scared of, real or imaginary? On one hand, you have the very real monster that makes its way to Archer’s Peak and is brutally killing children. On the other hand you have James, who is surrounded by and survives all of this. His stories are ways of bringing his inner monsters to life. He’s a kid in a middle school filled with monsters who ridicule him for his lack of friends and his sexuality. Though they have very different physical appearances and ways of manifesting themselves, the reality is, these two types of monsters aren’t so different, and through Something is Killing the Children #1, we begin to realize how that may be the case.
The actual, horrifying, grotesque-looking monster revealed in the issue’s final pages is somewhat of a mystery. It’s big, it’s scary, it’s ruthless, and it’s killing children. Where did it come from? What can it do? We don’t know these things. We can see in these pages that it feels almost no remorse in killing, and that it likely isn’t for food, since a lot of the bodies remain on the ground. We do know that this monster appeared soon after James told a scary story about something lurking in the ravine. Did it come from James’s mind? It’s possible, but we do know that this is not an isolated incident, and this monster hunter, Erica Slaughter, is proof of that. Now, all signs from this first issue would point to young James being our protagonist, but the way Tynion talks about the book, it seems like Erica is the character we’ll be following. Erica has seen these monsters, apparently countless times. She’s killed them. They even have classifications; the one is Archer’s peak is class E7. Is that a large or small monster? We don’t know. After the first issue, what’s important is understanding that these monsters aren’t just a made up construct for the characters to deal with. In Something is Killing the Children #1, monsters are a very real addition to the world we live in.
Then you have James’s personal monsters. Compared to this brutal killing machine, they can’t be so bad, can they? Everyone deals with bullying at some point. But Tynion does a great job of reminding us how terrible middle school can be. Put yourself in James’s shoes. You’ve just witnessed the most gruesome, terrifying thing you could ever see. Your best friends were brutally mutilated right in front of you. You’ve had two weeks to somehow “get over it,” and now you’re going back to school. You haven’t even made it to the entrance yet when Dan blames you for their deaths. “So, you killed them right,” he says as though it’s fact. These bullies can be monsters in their own right. They may not leave a trail of blood and guts in their wake, but they can cause as much destruction. Imagine all of the wounds that had just begun to heal for James after two weeks of coping with whatever was in that ravine being reopened by one big shot with something to say. The words that came out of Dan’s mouth were vicious, cruel, and brutal. Even Principal John Collins says, “You really should have punched him.” Collins isn’t afraid to get real when it comes to dealing with a little monster face to face. He’s a young, new principal in a town where children are dying. This isn’t easy for him either, and he shows it.
These choices and traits are very particular and intentional from James Tynion IV, Werther Dell’edera, Miquel Muerto, and Andworld Design. They’re telling a story of the monsters that exist in our heads and out in the world. Those that we see in movies and those that look like us. The decision to go with a protagonist, at least in the first issue, who is so evocative of the writer himself is not only bold, but also honest, raw, and deeply personal. It should tell you that maybe Tynion himself experienced some of the emotions James is feeling right now, and that alone should earn your respect. Something is Killing the Children doesn’t feel like just another horror book. It feels like Tynion is sharing with you a small piece of his personal horror, and that isn’t something we see too often.
Contrasting with the monsters themselves, we have Erica Slaughter, monster hunter. Carrying dual machetes and wearing a creepy bandana over her face, Erica Slaughter may look young, but she is a threat. The first time we see her, she’s just killed a monster in another small town. She’s talking to a girl in a wagon when she gets another call. It’s Archer’s Peak this time. These things could be anywhere. This entire sequence plays out in a massive double page spread filled with small, rectangular panels of varying shapes and sizes. It’s all thrown at you at once as little snapshots that reveal pieces of the puzzle little by little. It may not be until the end when you start to ask yourself why this girl is in a wagon. It definitely isn’t until the end when you realize the eyepatch isn’t telling the whole story. What happened to this girl is truly horrifying, but it’s also easy to miss in the chaos of thinking about who Erica is and what this could mean. Erica then arrives in Archer’s Peak and familiarizes herself with the situation. This is a class E7 monster we’re dealing with, and it’s time to get to work.
The question going through my mind is: How does Erica deal with the other type of monster that exists all around us? Issue #1 presents us with a lot of core ideas and themes, setting the stage for some heavy exploration of violence, fear, trauma, bullying, and more. James has to confront some of the worst parts of the human experience all at one and he’s only in middle school. It’d be easy for him to snap, hide, withdraw, or try to run away from it all, but instead he simply turns to Erica and asks, “Can I help?” The storyteller is determined to see this through, an that’s an admirable decision. After all he’s been through, James is still going to fight.
Tynion’s voice completely fleshes out the characters with clear, defined, character traits. Between his words and Dell’edera’s designs, this is some of the best character building you’ll see in comics. Dell’edera’s artwork is gorgeous and terrifying. Reminiscent of Sorrentino’s work on Gideon falls, every panel of Something is Killing the Children is constrained to a box and built on the idea of showing you just enough. Other than the splash page towards the end, there is no panel that shows you everything, and that’s how horror comics should be. The horror isn’t the pictures you see in front of you but rather the picture you put together in your own mind constructed from the pieces on the page. It’s not a grid or a pattern. In fact, despite being all of the panels being rectangular, it’s kind of chaotic. These panels are only showing you the horror in scattered pieces. There’s only part of what’s going on displayed for the reader to take in. There’s an intense amount of control on display here. Tynion and Dell’edera showing what control they are ceding to the reader and what control they are taking away from the reader is very impressive.
Often times a very boxy comic can feel monotonous and mundane, but that is absolutely not the case here. Tynion and Dell’edera use it as a tool for mystery, secrecy, and the horrors of the unknown. The visual storytelling is excellent. From the character designs, to the expressions, the body horror, the positioning, how often the characters look at the reader instead of at each other, it’s all phenomenal. It’s one of the best looking books to come out in a long time. Muerto’s colors provide a lot of intensity and depth to what’s on the page. The horrors of this world are bathed in shadow. Even during the day, the evidence of what occurred at night is still often hidden in blacks and deep blues subtly cake in red. The day time is bathed in your typical small town palette with grays, browns, greens, etc, but the night, however, is where Muerto is really able to come alive. The way his deep blues mix with all the red blood and gore is a sight that won’t be leaving your mind anytime soon.
Andworld Design continues to prove why it’s one of the best lettering studios in the business. As always, the sound effects are great and blended seamlessly with the art. The lettering placements allow the visual horror elements to really shine through. The real talent in this issue, however, is in the exclamation balloons. They may not look that different from ordinary exclamations you see in any other comic, but the boldness and size of font, the placement, the jaggedness of the balloon outline, and the length of the tale go along way to making these exclamations feel real and feel like their really being shouted. Andworld Design takes a lot of care in its subtle SFX, always giving small visual cues sound to further bring them to life, whether it be leaves crunching, a character drinking water, or a phone vibrating.
Something is Killing the Children looks to be one of the most engrossing and terrifying books on the stands right now, telling an important and deeply personal horror story that feels very close to the creators’ hearts.