Silent Hill: Past Life #3 (2011)
By: Tristan Jones on January 21, 2011  |  Comments ()  |  Share 
Cover Art
Publisher: IDW
Script: Tom Waltz
Art: Menton Matthews III (Menton3)
Silent Hill: Past Life #1 and Silent Hill: Past Life #2 were both really high calibre horror comics. Fantastic art and a solid script have made Past Life one of the most enjoyable and interesting reads of the past year, which is genuinely surprising and very refreshing, as generally straight out horror books tend to be pretty shit, or fall just short of their full potential to really stand out. It's even rarer for licensed comics to really stand out and live up to their full potential, too, especially obscurer licenses like Silent Hill, which is why it pleases me so much that the penultimate issue of Past Life continues to raise the bar when it comes to what people should expect of both horror books and licensed comics.

This third part picks up two or so weeks after issue two, and things are starting to both unravel and come together. Not a huge amount actually happens in the issue itself, but we do learn a lot of things about Jebediah Foster (the central character of the story) and his less than savoury history, as well as the slightly off-kilter characters that inhabit the town and why they act the way they do.

I'm not going to rave on about the art by Menton Matthews (actually there's one page of seriously creepy artwork done in what looks like pastels that's some of the best the book's offered), or Waltz's script, as what I said in previous reviews still stands, and everything I loved about the previous issues regarding both aspects is on display perfectly here. What I will say about this third issue is that it actually forces you to go back and reread the previous issues already (something most don't do until they have all the parts in hand). The first read through of the current issue jarred me a little, particularly the sequence we open with, but as the pages go on I had gathered my bearings quickly and liked what was going on. It also made me realise that I'd been interpreting the dialogue of the first two books (particularly the second) in a very different way to what was intended, but in going back you also find clues in the artwork regarding the revelations of the third issue.

One of the key things that impresses me most about this book is the way conversations play out, both visually and in terms of scripting. Pages of heavy conversation are given a great visual pacing that helps break up the dialogue and give it a sense of flow that feels both really natural and very kind of creepy at the same time (something that's very noticeable in the Silent Hill games). The attention to detail, particularly in the expressions of the characters is great and also helps the dialogue immensely, giving you a solid sense of how the characters are saying particular things, and Waltz's use of accented dialogue helps sell the reality of the characters as well; it's a great example of art and script working together nearly to perfection (there was one odd little moment that's probably more of a petty gripe than anything, but I'll get to that later).

Something that surprised me about the direction the story takes (which is only really fully realised in this issue) is the surprisingly overt nature of Jeb's "ghosts" catching up with him. For those not in the know, a lot of the under-the-skin horror of Silent Hill revolves around the past of those who venture into the town; in Silent Hill 2 for example, one of the key characters in that story is a woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to the protagonist's late wife, and a lot of what happens and the way she acts make you certain that the eerie coincidences are a lot less coincidence than they are eerie. There are a few characters here that seem to fit into things in a similar fashion to the character just described, but when you learn what you do in this book the nature of their appearance may be a little obvious for ardent Silent Hill fans (like the ones that will continue to see the little nods to the history set out in the games - clearly Waltz takes the time to read everything he can in them!). That said, it's not something that'll upset anyone or even really be noticeable to anyone reading it as a straight up horror book with little to no knowledge of the Silent Hill series. If you don't know Silent Hill, don't feel like you're not going to be able to read it and not follow it, you'll just notice a few more things if you do is all.

Another thing I really loved about the direction of the book (something I was hoping for actually), is that it doesn't decide to explain why Silent Hill is the way it is. It throws a couple of vague theories in there, but doesn't go into any sort of detail, which I think is the way it should be. Often times, the less you know about something the scarier/creepier it is, which is certainly true of Silent Hill. You're told enough to make the story being told work, but it doesn't go against or try to rewrite anything that's come before it. The way the town is dealt with here is just the way it should be in any good "ghost" story.

So, as Past Life approaches the last issue, I can safely say that this is still one of the best horror books this side of The Walking Dead, and well worth a read by anyone who likes good comics regardless of the genre. I only had one problem with the whole thing, which was the way one particular panel was presented visually, but it's a much of a muchness so I won't go into it. It doesn't detract from things at all really so forget I said anything. Hopefully the final issue will retain the quality of storytelling presented so far, as I'd really hate for such a great book to fall apart in the last issue but if the attention to detail in both story and art so far is anything to go by, I don't think there's going to be any problem.

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