The collaboration between writer Dan Watters and artist Caspar Wijngaard came to fruition on the Image comic book Limbo, a new spin on the theological concept of Purgatory, whilst being a surreal neon-noir fusing hardboiled pulp with an ’80s VHS visual aesthetic. Although that particular comic has a labyrinthine narrative that can be hard to follow, its originality and weirdness piqued interest to see what the creative pair would have in store next. Enter: Home Sick Pilots.
In the summer of 1994, a high school punk band called the Home Sick Pilots are trying to get by in the California town of Santa Manos. During one night of gigging, the band’s lead singer Ami makes a stop at a haunted house, of which she was initially interested in doing a performance there. Ami has gone missing for weeks, much to the worry of her fellow band members, and it turns out she has developed ghostly powers in her absence. Under the service of the Old James House, Ami sets out to retrieve the lost ghosts and bring them home.
From the first issue, Home Sick Pilots is your typical haunted house chiller with a ’90s punk twist, which does the job efficiently, though that premise wouldn’t have sustained itself over the course of five issues. However, the last two pages set up the idea that this title is not just a horror comic. On the back of the paperback, Home Sick Pilots is described as “Power Rangers meets The Shining”, which sounds like the strangest of premises.
Although it embraces horror aesthetics, from the haunted house that has inanimate objects coming to life and splashing pools of blood, to the visually distinct ghosts that pop up, I wouldn’t call this a scary read. Home Sick Pilots combines other genres in with the horror, even the superhero genre. Whilst you have the supernatural action sequences ranging from super-powered ghosts to a Kaiju-based climax, the story never negates the human element as we see how the splitting of a band can have repercussions for the already flawed band members.
Whilst the other Home Sick Pilots, Buzz and Rip, get their share of the drama as we explore their own flawed sensibilities, this is predominately Ami’s story as she narrates the five issues. The recurring theme of this volume is loneliness, as Ami has felt so isolated following the death of her mother – setting up a mystery that might be answered in subsequent issues – and since then, she has always felt alone, despite the few friends she has made along the way. Whether or not you have an understanding of ’90s punk culture and music, you might feel disgust towards the various punks that pop up, a lot of whom are pretty loathsome, including one street punk who hates all music.
Reuniting with his Limbo co-creator, artist Caspar Wijngaard brings a lot of that book’s sensibilities here. It may lack the surrealism of Limbo, but there is still that inventiveness, from the unique panel layouts to the neon-pink coloring that is used throughout; there is a stunning double-page spread featuring all the interiors of the Old James House where two groups of characters collide with each other. The intense sequences of action and horror pop with color, whilst the supernatural forces are imaginatively designed, most notably a VHS cassette that uses its overly extensive tape as a body.
Fans of Limbo will be thrilled with this creative team’s latest work, which starts off a punk-based haunted house chiller before introducing several other genres to become something all its own. It will be exciting to see where it goes in the ongoing narrative.
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