Silent Hill: Dying Inside (2004)
By: Trist Jones on September 7, 2006  |  Comments ()  |  Share 
Cover Art
Publisher: IDW
Writers: Scott Ciencin
Art: Ben Templesmith, Aaadi Salaman
In spite of the vast number of horror comics out there, few seem to hit their stride the way they should. A large problem with horror comics is simply the notion of such a thing existing. Comic books are somewhere between books and films, relying on both words and imagery to be truly effective, but run too many risks if they lean too much in one direction or the other. A good comic book has, more often than not, a perfect combination of the two. Sometimes the art can get away with being slightly below average if it compliments the words or story in general, but a comic that pulls this off is rare. Silent Hill: Dying Inside is one of those comics that will have you torn as to which way your mind goes about it, and being a huge fan of the Silent Hill series, this book still has me going back and forth.

The reason Silent Hill works, in my mind at least, is that its horror is a perfect combination of the cerebral and visceral. The visuals are disturbing enough, but it's the psychology behind the visuals that makes it truly effective. Often the true nature of the psychology behind them remains hidden until later in the game's unfolding, but there's still enough there for the mind to draw it's own conclusions and then you'll get slapped with something so horrifically violent in it's intimations that that's enough right there. Thematically, Silent Hill works by playing on emotion and guilt, which is most evident in Silent Hill 2 and The Room (part 4), but this is all well and good, because games are an interactive experience, and you become the character you're playing as. You also have a great soundtrack to accompany it, which ultimately helps build the largest part of what makes the Silent Hill experience so memorable and horrifying – the atmosphere.

Silent Hill: Dying Inside, available in either five individual issues or as a complete trade paperback, was released by IDW Publishing in 2004, coming in at around the same time as the fourth instalment in the video game series. Written by Scott Ciencin, with art chores by Australia's own Ben Templesmith (30 Days of Night, Fell) and newcomer Aadi Salman, the whole five issue series contains not one, but two very different arcs that tie very closely together. The first two chapters/issues revolve around Dr. Troy Abernathy, a topflight psychologist who's celebrity status has jaded him, and a 19 year old film student named Lynn Deangelis.

The story starts with Lynn, cornered, with nothing but a video camera and being attacked by a group of Silent Hill's unnamables, who seem to be under the control of - or at least working with - a disturbing little girl named Christabella (who's stomach also happens to be hanging open). When Lynn somehow manages to summon an unidentified man to save her, we shift forward in time, finding her a complete wreck, huddled and broken in the corner of a hospital rec-room. Enter Dr. Abernathy. As a favor to an old colleague, he agrees to take Lynn on as a patient. Since her little trip to Silent Hill, Lynn has become a lost cause. Nothing works. Abernathy tries every form of therapy possible before he resorts to drugging her and taking her to the source of the trauma. In the true fashion of the titular town, it's not long before Abernathy's past comes rushing back to greet him, along with the foul-mouthed Christabella. What follows is a fight for survival as the two try to work out what's going on as the town starts eating away at Abernathy and dragging all his dirty – violent – secrets out of the closet.

These first two chapters are illustrated by Ben Templesmith, whose art styling, while significantly different to what Silent Hill purists may be expecting, actually works quite well, given the slightly deviant nature of the story. Yes, from the outset, it sounds like standard Silent Hill, but there are some little oddities, the most prominent being Christabella's extremely overt personality, that set it somewhat apart from the regular tone of the games. Templesmith's art compliments the story, but that visual differentiation may put some off (I know the majority of the online Silent Hill community can't stand the comics, though I think their reactions are a touch towards the extreme). Ciencin manages to capture the bizarre and nightmarish nature of the games fairly well, and, most noticeably in this first part, manages to emulate the emotional core that drives them. As with the games, the town seems to have particular agendas for particular people, and Ciencin plays with this idea really well. Initially, with all of Abernathy's hidden baggage, it's easy to think that the character is heading for certain doom, but when Christabella comes face to face with him, things change, and the town's agenda becomes all the more interesting. Ciencin also taps into the idea that Silent Hill games always had one personality that stood out, and for Dying Inside, that character is easily Christabella. The only problem is she may have crossed the lines these characters adhere to, to become possibly too overt for Silent Hill fans. Still, there's a unique little twist that will keep you reading into the next few chapters.

It's odd, because while Dying Inside ultimately resolves itself as one large arc, you essentially have two stories. Following on (in a slightly bizarre, but creepy way nonetheless) from the first two chapters/issues, Dying Inside takes a very sharp and sudden turn, but one that answers a number of questions that are raised early on in the story. This second story sees a group of misfit twenty-somethings journey to the town after getting their hands on the video footage that Lynn shot at the beginning of the first story. Strange thing is, each time they watch it, it changes. So, shifting gears from Abernathy and Lynn, we now follow Clown, Hogg, Payne, Gemmel, Wrath and Lauryn. As I said, they're your standard group of outcast twenty-somethings, and unfortunately they cause of the biggest problems with this second story. Much as you'd expect, the group go to Silent Hill and eventually run into the locals, including Christabella, and Lauryn finds herself being visited by flashes of Dr. Abernathy. It becomes very clear that any assumptions the reader may have had up until now need to be reassessed, as relationships and agendas start to unravel.

This second story, while providing a further sense of closure to the events of the first two chapters, is a mess compared to the first two. To begin with, there are far too many characters vying for attention. Clearly Lauryn is our central character, but her group is such a faceless mass (with the exception of Hogg) that when characters split up and start dying it becomes confusing trying to work out who's who and where they are, and even worse when they come back together. Names of characters we've never even heard speak or referenced before are dropped and you're left wondering "Hang on, who was that?" and others – such as a man known only as Whately – just appear out of the blue for the most minute portions of time. The art style employed doesn't help things out much either.

While Aadi Salmon's art probably looks good standing on it's own, as sequential art, it's incredibly jarring. His panels look busy, even when there's nothing really going on and the similarity of a number of the male cast makes it harder to differentiate between characters. I'd be interested in seeing what the script for this latter section of the story looks like compared to the first. Where Templesmith managed to make things flow relatively well, Salman's is kind of all over the place. Whether this has anything to do with Ciencin's scripting and panel descriptions is something I can't honestly say, though, as I said, it would be interesting to see (for those who don't know, a large part of what you see in a comic book panel is actually written out by the writer first, as descriptive as the writer feels necessary, and the artist uses this to construct the artwork).

There seems to be a more deliberate attempt to incorporate more of the logic used in the games, as there are parts involving number puzzles and items found within them, and while they do fit in the comic, they feel a tad forced (particularly the number puzzle). The comic also makes a very subtle reference to the games, one that should be far more profound than it is, and is used as a mere throwaway plot device than anything else. For those familiar with who Alessa is, then you'll know how important she is in the Silent Hill world, and her connection to this story and Christabella's intentions are made apparent in the final section of the last chapter and when it comes, you wish that such an important plot point had been raised earlier, as the story would likely have had far more cohesion and not felt like a patchwork monster. It just feels like once you've hit the end of the book, much of this second half changed it's direction drastically after the Templesmith chapters, and Ciencin had to adlib a lot of the final parts. I'm not saying that's how it went, but it just feels a bit that way.

In the end, it's still a good read, especially for those who really dig horror artwork, but there are a lot of moments that run the risk of alienating both fans of the series and those who have never had anything to do with it. It deviates just enough from the core of the Silent Hill games to put off some fans, but stays close enough to it to confuse newcomers. It's a good horror comic in that it doesn't play for 'boo' scares, relying more on imagery and implications as the games do (though to a lesser extent than the games).

As I said, I'm still torn about how I feel about this one. It has some very definite ups – particularly early on – but it has some clear downs points too. It is worth having a look through, but some may only want to pick up the Templesmith section. As an issue run, issues one and two would garner four stars, the latter parts would take home three, so count the whole thing up as a three and a half (or somewhere thereabouts).
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