Silent Hill: Among the Damned (2005)
By: Trist Jones on September 8, 2006  |  Comments ()  |  Share 
Cover Art
Publisher: IDW
Writers: Scott Ciencin
Art: Shaun Thomas
Jason dreams of the place of his death. A quiet forest on the outskirts of a mountain town, but very quickly that dream becomes a nightmare, as ghosts of his military past come back and he finds himself in a losing battle against unspeakably horrific creatures. He wakes to find himself in a desolate hospital, watched over by a woman named Dahlia, but something's wrong. Jason is so haunted by his past that his perceptions of what is real and what is not blur, and he soon finds himself on the road to his death. But when Jason swerves to miss a young woman crossing the lonely mountain roads, he wrecks his car and has no recollection of whether or not he actually hit the girl he tried to avoid. There's only one logical thing to do, right? Head to the nearest town and get help. But when you're a man with a past full of torturous demons, and that nearest town is Silent Hill, you're going to get anything but logical…

Silent Hill: Among the Damned is the follow up book to the previously released Dying Inside, written, once again, by Scott Ciencin. Like the first book, Among the Damned has little to do with the games upon which it's based, outside of the town itself and the denizens therein, and even less to do with Dying Inside. The format of Among the Damned (and the books that follow) is a much more digestible one, presented as a forty-seven page premium comic instead of being broken up into individual issues. However, just because the format is more digestible, doesn't mean the story told within is. In fact, if you had trouble getting your head around Dying Inside, then Among the Damned will probably be the most confounding book you'll ever read. It took me a few reads to (what I hope is) correctly grasp what was going on in this book, but once you do you realise what a truly exceptional piece it is.

Ciencin is obviously a very clever writer. He writes his dialogue and interior monologues extremely well; anything textually based is excellent and very naturalistic. However, his comic writing skills still leave a fair amount of room for improvement. He tells his stories well, but it feels as though they would be better suited for novels/novellas. As I said, it took me a few reads before I could comfortably say I knew what was going on, and even then I still don't feel as though I do – but then again, this is half of the intrigue of the games: the idea that you never quite know what's going on. The problem with that thinking is that you have a better idea of what goes on in the games than you do here, even when you do have a grasp on things. All that aside though, once you do start to see through the darkness and initial confusion, what you have is an excellent story that is pieced together in a very clever way. It's one of those books where, once you have that grasp, there's a big internal (or external maybe) "Aaaah!" moment.

The key element to anything Silent Hill is the blurring of reality. Not knowing what's real and constantly questioning how much of it is really going on. If you've played the games, and carry that same sort of perception or thinking in when reading the books, they're much easier to read. Among the Damned does much the same thing. You have a very real place, a physically real place, that is able to manifest one's internal ghosts and demons into a physical reality, but at the same time, you also get glimpses of how the town affects other people (such as the incestuous, door-frame, "Father" creature in Silent Hill 2), that carry over into your own manifested reality. This is largely what happens to our lead character, Jason, in this book.

When he finally catches up with the mysterious Dahlia (no relation to the Dahlia of the games), he becomes part of her reality, and all the demons and ghosts of her sexually tormented past become part of his, the same way the monsters of his own past in the military become part of hers. There are still some slightly jarring moments of internal anguish that are suddenly dropped into moments of reality based interactions which add to the confusion, but as I said, once you have a loose idea as to what's going on physically, and what's going on internally, it's much easier to follow. Ciencin also leaves (deliberately I suspect) a number of lines of dialogue open to interpretation, giving readers something of a jigsaw puzzle when it comes to the past of particular characters.

Joining Ciencin on this book is artist Shaun Thomas. Somewhere between H.R. Giger (the designer of the Alien from Alien) and the previous books' Ben Templesmith, his artwork is fantastic, and perfectly suited to both the tale being told, and the existing Silent Hill mythos. Visually, it's very much in the same vein as Silent Hill 2, which is easily the most defining game in terms of visuals. Even the film, though deriving it's story from the first and third games, took nearly all of it's visuals and atmosphere from the second, and Thomas's art, while remaining very much his own, manages to capture the same atmosphere of the second game, while also including monsters familiar to those who've played the third and fourth. He balances out his characters extremely well, especially in Dahlia, making her fit in perfectly with the same psycho-sexual mentality that went into almost everything in the second game, while giving her a certain innocence that's almost disturbing. Jason is also extremely well rendered, as are the survivors found part way through the story, and his monsters are perfect. He nails everything that the previous artists fell just short of in the first book, and I think had Thomas been the artist on Dying Inside, it would have been a superior product.

This is a great horror comic. At around thirteen Australian dollars, it's also well worth the money. The story may prove a little testing at first, but after a couple of reads it becomes clear, and the artwork is worth more than the price of the comic. It's also a very accessible book for the more casual horror comic book fan, as large amounts of it come down to the reader's interpretations and it plays it's cards the way any good horror comic should. Definitely worth checking out.
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