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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Book of the Week: 'Severed’ #1

By Don M. Ventura

Severed #1
Image Comics

As a child I vividly remember my older brother Darren bringing in copies of his tattered horror comic books to read to me before I went to bed. You remember the old House of Mystery books from DC, where really nightmarish things happened to people who had it coming. I’d have nightmares for nights, but I always let him read those to me. That was my initiation into all things scary.

So I guess it was a no-brainer that I would find something to like about Severed, the new Image Comics mini-series from co-writers Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft and artist Attila Futaki. But this is no ordinary horror comic. This is a confidant piece of work that understands that atmosphere is just as important to inspire chills as the things that go bump in the night.

And the book has oodles of atmosphere here in the scenes that build towards the horrifying reveal on the book’s final page. More on that later though. Snyder and Tuft have crafted a story that feels firmly planted in reality, though it balances nicely between the scenes which grow evermore gloomy and the sincere period piece about a boy who yearns to find his father. The script is perfectly paced and reveals enough to keep the reader eager and invested.

The story opens in the 1950’s where Jack Garron’s grandson has brought him a troubling letter from a mysterious stranger (is there any other kind?). Soon we learn that Jack, a veteran and amputee, did not lose his arm in World War II and that he has secrets—secrets that begin his reminiscence of life as a 12-year old boy in 1917. Late one night, the last before the end of summer, Jack runs away from home to find his father, a minstrel who travels from town to town in search of a living entertaining.

Then we meet the monster. The kindly Mr. Porter. He doesn’t seem so bad. He’s a thin, older man who has just picked up young Frederick from St. Joseph’s Home for Boys with a job for the lad as an apprentice. Mr. Porter works for General Electric and is eager to train Frederick the skills necessary of an electrician. But Mr. Porter is not kindly as Frederick ultimately learns.

Severed is quiet and powerful story that moves along deliberately to share only enough, without giving everything away. And what could elevate the material any more? The positively beautiful artwork of Attila Futaki. Every illustration is filled with so much character and Futaki’s palette is absolutely striking. Futaki’s characters act—the expressions and body language add to what Snyder and Tuft have accomplished with the script.

Compare Futaki’s bright opening pages, set in the late 50’s, with the floral wallpaper and Technicolor clothing, to the grimness of the final scenes featuring Frederick and Mr. Porter all alone in the desolate countryside. Futaki commands dread with the sepia-like tones employed in the final pages where Mr. Porter reveals his true self.

Snyder, Tuft and Futaki have created a terrific opening chapter to their horror tale, one that works as equally as a drama as it does a haunting tale of dread. ½

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