A quick recap: bumbling single-ish father, Cormac, has unwittingly unleashed a supernatural force that makes its home in his daughter Scooper’s daycare. Several other parents, desperate to have a child-free, adult adventure, are pulled into a spectral Nancy Drew-style investigation concerning said spook. There have been some ups and downs RE: trust, belief in the supernatural, and the fact that Cormac is just the world’s biggest flake; nonetheless, the penultimate issue finds our wary sleuths on the same page, mid-exorcism.
For a series that has felt particularly uneven — character development shoveled to a spookless issue, the appearance of an Exposition Priest, and some underlying narrative mysteries failing to gain traction — the fourth and final issue of Scarenthood felt like it needed to come to some final, show-stopping conclusion for the previous stumbling to be overlooked. That the issue begins with an incredibly brief exorcism does not, by any means, provide us with that showstopper. Instead, the issue finds an entirely different way to excuse all the pacing problems: it reframes the four issues from chapters in themselves to pieces of a singular chapter and then gets busy setting up that chapter’s cliffhanger ending.
If the four issues are read back-to-back as that single chapter, the concerns with pacing, heavy-handed exposition, and stilted character development do smooth out. Less pressure is placed on each set of twenty-odd pages to hit all the marks and maintain the whole atmosphere, as the whole manages to hit those marks with a wider stride. The problem, however, is that the story has been presented to us in twenty-odd page chunks, some lacking the compelling cliffhangers to keep readers hanging on.
A four-as-one reframing is not the most reassuring of ploys, given the fact that solicitations mark this issue as “4 (of 4)” — with no guarantee of the next chapter, does the reframing device work? It seems like it must, if only because the best, most shocking moment—a full-on Creepshow sludge monster—happened in its first act. Also, because the cliffhangers promise a radical shift in narrative, a shift that excuses every misstep as a story easing itself into gear.
And cliffhangers are presented aplenty: a major personal subplot for our primary characters finally lands after being alluded to and promptly forgotten (by both reader and book), just as Cormac’s relationship with co-sleuth Jen starts getting interesting. Further, the major mythology of the story begins to stretch its legs and walk around a bit, deepening from the several pages of exposition in the third issue to something beyond ‘final, last-ditch effort to explain away the plot in the third act of a horror movie’. A secondary supernatural force is introduced, a wider (and wilder) world implied, and our Daycare Ghost seems only to be a symptom of much more interesting, rewarding problems.
For all its minor problems, Scarenthood is, at its heart, a delightful book. Roche’s artwork is lively, welcoming, and filled with tiny quirks of character, and the actual characters, as they grow and have more room to shine, are becoming lovable and the sort of witty that’s not too witty. O’Halloran’s colors are sharp and appropriately shifting in tone so that the difference between the normal world and moments of actual horror are distinctly felt. What’s more, Roche’s ghosties are captivating, masterful bits of gruesome design that we get just enough to keep them from going stale.
This is to say that if we get a second chapter—or the second set of four issues better suited to be a single chapter—I’m more than willing to continue on the Scarenthood adventure. There is enough charm behind the whole thing to supply enough goodwill to believe in the promise alluded to; issue #4 may not be the full-fledged banger I hoped for, but it laid down a path to imply that we will get that banger. Eventually. So long as there are more issues to be had.
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