Silent Hill: Past Life #1 (2010)
By: Tristan Jones on November 4, 2010  |  Comments ()  |  Share 
Cover Art
Cover Art
Writer: Tom Waltz
Art: Menton3
Additional Art: Riley Rossmo
Publisher: IDW Publishing
With Silent Hill 8 on the horizon, IDW Publishing, the comic book company behind the (mostly) fantastic Silent Hill comics a couple of years ago returns to the infamous town to give us a whole new look at the Silent Hill mythos.

Written by Tom Waltz (editor of the Ghostbusters comics at IDW, also the writer of the excellent Silent Hill: Sinner's Reward and writer of the upcoming Silent Hill 8), the book takes us way, way back to 1867, where a newlywed couple from Dakota are looking to make a fresh start of things in Silent Hill after the American Civil War. If you know anything about Silent Hill, you already know where this is going to go...

As a first issue of what I believe is going to be a four part story, you really couldn't ask for too much more. Actually, the only thing I can think of is that the next issue be in my hands right now. The pacing is tight, and the book utilizes the talents of two artists: the cryptically named Menton3, with seven pages of art by Riley Rossmo during what read like flashbacks, or "out of body" moments for Jebediah (the male lead). Both artists deliver fantastic work, but I'll get to that in a bit.

First and foremost, Silent Hill is about story. In the games and previous books, you learn that Silent Hill has a very rich and disturbing history, and with this book being set at the time it is, I'd say it's fair to assume that we'll be seeing a little more of that as the book goes on (though that said, here's hoping we don't learn too much, as the mystery of it all is what I - and a number of others - find so appealing about Silent Hill), but if you're new to Silent Hill and worried about whether or not you'll need to go and play games or scrounge around for out of print and hard to find books, fear not: as horror books go, this one stands alone really well and could be picked up and enjoyed by anyone (and if it interests you enough to check out the other Silent Hill stuff, I'm sure it'll become a much richer experience).

Waltz sets up the first issue perfectly. Each character has a very clear voice; you can hear them perfectly in your mind as you read, and the visuals and spacing of the word balloons gives the dialogue a rather creepy Lynch-ian vibe, particularly when the newlyweds meet Silent Hill's postmaster on the road. There are also some visual nuances present in the story that would have to have been scripted in that work perfectly to establish the left-of-centre nuances to normality that often makes Silent Hill as memorably creepy as it is. Flashbacks and the previously mentioned "out of body" moment is worked in virtually seamlessly, and though somewhat confusing at first glance, it never takes long to realise what's happening and these particular moments are very effective at fleshing out both the characters and the stirring sense of dread the book evokes.

Waltz clearly (and thankfully) knows that the true horror of Silent Hill is cerebral. It's less about showing you things and more about evoking things - thoughts, feelings, emotions, etcetera. There's a lot right here in this first issue, but you need to look into it to find it, which is what all effective horror comics should do. You can't scare someone with a comic the way you can with a movie, so you need to find another avenue to create that same sense of foreboding and horror, and this first issue gives you just enough to unsettle you and set you up for what I'm sure is worse further down the road.

As good as the script is at encapsulating the horror of the Silent Hill series, and at simply presenting effective comic book horror storytelling, what really makes this book shine is the art work, and how it uses it.

Menton3 isn't a name I'm familiar with in comics, though I do hope to see him around more and more. His work is a blend of photorealism and stark minimalism, which allows you to simply focus on what is important for the story without getting caught up or lost in superfluous background details, and in spite of the minimalist nature, you never lose track of where you are or what's going on. His use of colour is also perfect for the book, and his use of shape and design, even outside of the panel layouts (which may not necessarily have been entirely his own, if my knowledge of comic scripting holds true - which again is a mark of good comic scripting) really helps offset the realism of his characters and objects just enough to give everything an eerie importance.

Rily Rossmo's additional page work is noticeably different to Menton3's, but the use of colour and layout allows it to feel like a very natural transition. Rossmo's art feels a lot like a blend of Sean Thomas (Silent Hill: Among the Damned and Silent Hill: Paint it Black) and Nick Stakal (Silent Hill: The Grinning Man and Silent Hill: Dead/Alive). As much as I really love Menton3's work, I really hope there's more of Rossmo's work later in the series as well, as his style really works fantastically with the material here, and I can definitely see it fitting in nicely with more modern Silent Hill stories as well (if they were to happen).

As far as first issues go, this is about as good as they get, and definitely above most other horror books out there. The art is fantastic and very easy to follow in spite of how it may seem at the "off-the-shelf, two-second flip-through" stage before you buy it, and the script is definitely above the standard horror fare these days. I'm very interested in seeing how this one plays out. On paper it all adds up - Waltz has proved he's a very competent horror writer with his last Silent Hill, and his zombie/war book Children of the Grave, and Konami chose him to write the next Silent Hill game; the art team is fantastic and the first issue itself really sets a high bar for the rest of the book. Now, hurry up and give me the rest!
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