“What even is scary now? When you consider the state of the world…”
Joshua Williamson is no stranger to the things that make our skin crawl, as evidenced by his Image Comic series Nailbiter, a series that focused on the twisted horror of real life. Now, on the heels of Dark Crisis on Infinite Earths for DC Comics, he returns to his grisly roots with a new horrific vision in Dark Ride.
The first volume, appropriately subtitled Hell Ticket, doesn’t steer you wrong. A twisted thrill (and yes, dark) ride is exactly what we get, and more. Emphasis on the “ride”.
Right off the bat, the story introduces us to Arthur Dante, the old and mysterious founder of a famous horror-themed amusement park that seems to be on its last legs. However, nothing in Devil Land is as it seems, since the true nature of its origin remains ambiguous and even more sinister to boot.
The truth is that Arthur made a deal with the devil to fulfill his ambitions, but the question is what did the devil get in return? Some want answers, others seek to hide them, and some wish to deny them even when they’re in plain sight. This makes for a very well-rounded cast of characters whose dynamics help to sell how the mystery unravels across the first four issues.
The mystery in question begins with the disappearance of a new employee at Devil Land, which brings unwanted attention to the park’s unrealistically clean accident record since its opening decades before. But nobody understands the real supernatural nature of these strange happenings, some of which aren’t for the faint of heart.
As previously said, even though the book is supernatural, it also tackles several topics that hit close to home. Some of these include the view of horror in the modern world and the danger of terrifying obsessions within those with the power to pursue them. Did I mention that a man with the last name Dante has two children named Samhain and Halloween?
Which brings us to another question, one which the book asks with tact. How much of an obsession with horror is too far? Pretty much every present character views it differently, even among the Dantes, our supposed antagonists. Some are simple fans who view it with the intent of escapism, and others may not care in the least. Then you have the ones who care a little too much, who find an unsettling comfort in satanism that leads to dark places.
Does anyone remember when a certain Comics Code Authority couldn’t tell the difference between these kinds of people?
If there’s one thing to be said about the tone of Williamson’s voice and the visual pop of Andrei Bressan’s art, it’s that both are wholly reminiscent of the EC (Entertainment Comics) horror comics of old. These creatively free pre-Code classics were penalized heavily when the parents of children spoke against the excess of them, and then when CCA’s brand approving of what was published became more about policing that freedom, the days of EC’s horror line became numbered, leading to the end of EC’s golden era.
Why is this relevant to Dark Ride? The book features a number of characters who view horror to different extents, and Williamson makes it a point to keep their views separate to keep with the themes of the posed question. Horror is about having a scare to release the tension from the systems of those dealing with the horror’s of real life, both of which can be kept separate. The theme park setting expertly captures the notion of having a bit of fun before going home. And though this collected edition contains a full map of its unsettling setting, the real horror of this story is whatever’s going on behind the scenes.
With heavy classical comic sensibilities that are scarce in this day and age, paired with an analytical view of the history of horror and its fans, Williamson, Bressan and co. have created a beautifully ominous world, giving us a haunting story arc that feels like the first entry of an old school creature feature series.
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