Silent Hill: The Grinning Man (2005)
Trist Jones on September 14, 2006  |  Comments ()  |  Share 
Cover Art
Publisher: IDW
Writers: Scott Ciencin
Art: Nick Stakal
Well, every comic series has its downer. It's inevitable really. I can't really call to mind one comic run (that I've read at least) that hasn't had a bum issue somewhere along the line. For Silent Hill, Grinning Man is it, and it comes largely down to one thing: the art.

Before we get to all that, The Grinning Man is actually a pretty good story. It does what I'd been wishing someone would do with books like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th, and gives us a completely new angle on the Silent Hill mythos. The Grinning Man revolves around the idea that one can alter the power that surges through Silent Hill; that they can harness it and use it for themselves; and while this is hinted at somewhat in Dying Inside with the character of Christabella, it's substantially different here, as the Grinning Man isn't a demon, or part of the town, he's just a guy. A psychotic guy, but still just a guy. Anyway, this Grinning Man has worked out how to take control of things in town, but his motivations are never made clear, and given the nature of the character, one probably wouldn't be too far off assuming it's bad.

While this is happening, State Trooper Robert Tower, who actually patrols Silent Hill, is retiring, and on his last day, decides to take his Mulder-wannabe replacement into the town. Now, Robert has never seen the creatures that hide inside Silent Hill, but he knows that something is terribly wrong with the place, only he blames it on drug dealers, junkies, freaks, burn victims and other such human undesirables. Soon, Tower crosses the path of the Grinning Man and the true nature of the town comes crashing down around him and his replacement.

Much like the previous book – Pain It BlackThe Grinning Man is a fairly straightforward tale. Actually it's far more straightforward than one would expect. It references plot points raised in Dying Inside, but they're simple, throwaway moments that don't really have any bearing on the story at all, so readers can have this book without needing any other instalments. The name dropping and minor inferences do make me wonder however, whether or not these seemingly one-off stories (this, Among the Damned and Paint It Black) are actually linked, and leading up to something bigger… but I digress, and as good as the story is, it's unfortunate that it really is let down by the art.

Some may dig the art style, as it's one that I've noticed in other books, but I for one found it lazy and just plain ugly to look at. Taking over from the brilliant work put forward by Shaun Thomas in the two previous releases, Nick Stakal's art is completely different to any of the artists that came before him. Comprising largely of heavy black line work and inking, layered over dull, colour ink washes, the art simply doesn't suit Silent Hill. It fails to evoke the same sense of atmosphere the previous books managed to, and while the first few pages show promise, it feels as though Stakal became progressively lazier or rushed as the book reaches it's climax. He is very good with his use of inks, but where the previous books were prone to becoming slightly confusing because of both writing and the art style, here there's no doubt that it's the art that creates the mess. The story is too straightforward (again, not in a bad way) for it to come down to the writing. Stakal's characters all become lost in great masses of black and inconsistent sequentials and his interpretations of the Silent Hill creatures leaves a lot to be desired. It's almost as though he hadn't played the games or looked into the previous books (although I'm sure this is not the case, but it certainly feels that way).

As a horror book, there's nowhere near as much here as there has been in the others. The monsters barely appear and you get a couple of ghosts here and there, but most of the book is a doubting Tower bad mouthing his replacement about his beliefs – which never quite reaches the heights of it's potential. There's some gore, and some violence, but it's nothing really new or traditionally disturbing (as anything bearing the Silent Hill title should be), and it's made less interesting by comparatively boring visuals. Silent Hill fans could probably give this one a miss and wouldn't really be losing anything, but I'm sure completists would be able to see the redemptive qualities in it.

It's one of those cases where I'm positive that had Sean Thomas or another artist of a similar style been on art duties for this book, it probably could have been truly memorable. Perhaps not up to the standard of Paint It Black, but close, if not on the same level, as Among the Damned. Bottom line is, it's a decent enough story, but you'll probably want to take a look at the art before you decide to put the cash down for it.
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