The Conjuring: The Lover kicks off the all-new DC Horror imprint with a pair of stories set in the universe of The Conjuring films. The main story from David L. Johnson-McGoldrick, Rex Ogle, and Garry Brown follows a college student named Jessica who is dealing with the awkward growing pains of leaving home and navigating new romantic interests, all while a mysterious force haunts her from the shadows. The backup story by Scott Snyder and Denys Cowan introduces readers to a man who has disrespected Death itself.
SPOILERS AHEAD for The Conjuring: The Lover #1!
Where the main story excels is in its realistic dialogue. This first installment is a real slow burn when it comes to the horror elements, and that’s okay, because we get to learn a lot about our protagonist. The conversations between Jessica and her mother feel so real, from the gentle prodding from her mom to put herself out there to Jessica’s reluctance to discuss her private life. Likewise, the brief exchanges between Jessica and a boy she may have had a fling with are achingly awkward, but also brutally authentic. The implication that Jessica has feelings for her best friend adds several layers to her internal conflicts and make the reader even more attached to her emotional state.
When the book does dip its toes into the supernatural stuff, however, it definitely leaves an impression. The idea that something sinister is just out of view, right in the corner of our eyes at all times, is a potent type of horror. The encroaching darkness is an excellent visual signifier that things are getting progressively more difficult for Jessica, even in ways she can’t seem to see.
Garry Brown also does great work with space. Jessica’s dorm is a mess, like she barely wants to acknowledge that she lives there, and she’s often positioned off to the side or in the background of a panel. This furthers the sense of isolation we see from the character. Becca Carey’s lettering also enhances the mood of the piece, with the spirit’s hissed dialogue looking as jagged and unsettling as its outstretched fingers.
There’s only one bit that didn’t quite land for me, and it’s when we’re shown the underside of Jessica’s bed on the final page. I’m not entirely sure what I’m supposed to be looking at here. Even so, this first issue does a great job of getting us to care about its lead character and sets the stage for more scares to follow.
Between the main story and the backup, we’re treated to some ads that feel like they’re right out of a classic EC comic or Eerie magazine. It’s a fun bit of set dressing and it sets the right tone for the story that follows, as Snyder and Cowan deliver a tale that feels like it would be right at home in one of those aforementioned anthology mags. The framing device for the story feels like the perfect setup for this kind of pulpy tale, and it moves along at a quick pace without worrying too much about the hows or whys.
Cowan delivers an absolute gut punch with the haunting final image, which also feels like it jumped right out of a Creepshow segment. This is a story that wears its influences on its sleeve, and it’s made all the more enjoyable because of it.
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