The Secret Service in Matt Kindt’s slow-growing narrative universe has a tradition, part training, part hazing: each new operative is handed, for one year, an ‘unsolvable’ case, one that dates to the very origins of the Service and one which seems to haunt some agents for the rest of their lives.
The case—which sounds like an absolute blast, haha, very funny guys—involves a. . . well, it involves a case. Like, a briefcase. It is a case about a case. I’m not sure which case is the titular case, but I suspect it doesn’t matter.
The case is a cursed object, it would seem, and the Secret Service has been tracking and trying to obtain it since Andrew Johnson signed the Service into existence. Like any proper cursed object, there is a horrifying legend: when given the case, a person must pass it on to the person they hate the most. If this transaction is not made, the original recipient dies a horrible death before the case moves on to the person they love the most.
A sort of luggage-based murder chain-letter if you will.
Two agents, during their final week on the case, find themselves with some promising—and gruesome—leads. They are the closest to solving the case than anyone has been in the cases’ century-and-a-half existence. Here, in the second issue of this four-issue mini, they. . . lay eyes on the thing as it is spirited away on the back of a motorcycle.
It is a promising conceit for a story. So promising, in fact, that we’ve seen successful versions of the story revolve around a VHS tape in Ringu/The Ring, and an entire house in Ju-On/The Grudge, and even, nebulously, around sexual congress in It Follows.
Those films succeed in several places where Fear Case fails. First, the characters of the films are engaging, even at their most flimsily constructed; the two agents in Fear Case are not only flat but almost interchangeable. Their largest differing attributes are that one of them believes in the legend and the other does not.
Secondly, the characters in the films are all directly at risk; it is they who are cursed, almost from frame one, and it is that looming doom that compels the viewer to continue with the narrative—will the curse be lifted, or will our attractive, affable lead fall victim?
Here, again, Fear Case falls short. The agents have not been directly endangered by the case (or the case), and all horrifying action has already happened, off-panel, well before they arrive. That the high point of the action revolves around merely glimpsing the storied object and not one of a handful of bloody crime scenes frames just how low-energy this narrative can be.
What menace the men do face includes two mute men in a truck who are gang members in a gang we have not heard of at any point before their introduction and a handful of panels of spectral, imagined Lovecraftian tentacles.
It’s those phoned-in tentacles that seem most damning: without the ceaseless decades of Lovecraft-coded genre fiction, these tentacle panels would be only slightly more meaningless than they are now. Rather than provide substance to the narrative of the comic, they provide evidence of an increasing sense of Lovecraft Fatigue in media at large. The implied meaning of disembodied tentacles has reached critical mass, and they are now exhausting and tedious.
Without the connective tissue to Matt Kindt’s much sturdier book Bang! (presented, without fanfare, by an appearance of The 18 Stigmata of Philip Verge, an in-universe book, last issue), I fear this story would be swept away by the countless dozens of other horror books being released each month.
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