Silent Hill: Past Life #4 (2011)
By: Tristan Jones on February 22, 2011  |  Comments ()  |  Share 
Cover Art
Publisher: IDW
Script: Tom Waltz
Art: Menton J. Matthews III
When I started reviewing IDW's four part mini-series Silent Hill: Past Life, I said it could be one of the best horror comics to come around in a long time. As Silent Hill: Past Life #2 and Silent Hill: Past Life #3 came and went, Past Life continued to impress the hell out of me, but with all good comic runs there's a lingering fear that it could all fall apart in the next issue, making the month between and week leading up to release a strange and increasingly tense period, especially when it comes to the final issue. Thankfully, Past Life #4 doesn't falter, living up to the expectations set by the previous issues and capping off what is easily one of the best under-the-radar horror stories in comics for the past few years.

Much like the first book of the series, Past Life #4 doesn't feel much like a Silent Hill book, in that when you pick up a book, game or movie with the Silent Hill title attached to it, there's a certain expectation that comes with it (if you're familiar with the brand that is). There are definitely moments in the book that make it fit very firmly within the series, but Past Life feels more like something you would read or hear about incidentally in one of the games (particularly, the excellent Silent Hill 2). I guess this shouldn't surprise me as much as it does, considering it serves as something of a back story to the imminent Silent Hill: Downpour, the eighth game of the series which has also been written by Past Life writer Tom Waltz.

I think the core reason for this is that the story that's been told within the pages of Past Life is a very different kind of horror story to the introspective and cerebral horror of pretty much every story that's been told about Silent Hill. It's still very introspective and the element of cerebral horror is there, but the mythology presented as the core thrust of this story is very different. I thought I knew where the story was going earlier on, and I was only half right, and that had a lot to do with my expectations of it being a licensed book. Now that the story is over and I've seen how it plays out, I'm very pleasantly surprised.

I've been saying the whole time that horror fans in general would get a kick out of this book, regardless of their familiarity with the Silent Hill brand, but this issue pretty much cinches it. The real story being told here is one of revenge, of ghosts and reincarnation that, read a particular way, has very little to do with Silent Hill, outside of the setting. You could essentially remove Silent Hill from the core story altogether and the story would be just as good and just as quietly horrific, and any horror fan worth their salt would get a solid kick out of it. However, if one were looking to get into the Silent Hill series, this would be a pretty decent place to start.

There's nothing I can really say that hasn't been said in any of the previous reviews about Menton Matthews' art. It's fantastic, and I really hope to see more of his work in future comics. There's a great sequence involving someone's head being split with an axe and the "birth" sequence towards the end is fantastically illustrative - a great example of visual storytelling.

The same goes for Waltz's script, which I think has impressed me more now that the story has come full circle and revealed its true colours. The only thing I want to get off my chest about it is that I kinda wish there were just one more issue in there, just to really draw out the relationships and heighten the conflict between Jeb and the support cast; the true "Silent Hill" aspects of the book. That gripe's small though, what is here is more than serviceable, and as I said, ultimately what you have here is a different core story set in Silent Hill. All that said, I'm interested in seeing how this ties into the upcoming game, as much of the core story feels very much like its own thing. There's a lot of stuff referenced and going on behind the story told that I can certainly see figuring into things in the future, but time will tell.

At the end of the day, what you have here is a great little piece of American gothic horror that will stands perfectly well on its own two feet either way, and shouldn't be overlooked by anyone interested in horror stories of any kind. The art truly is something to behold, and anyone who wants to write or publish horror comics needs to read this and take a good solid look at how the story is presented in the comic medium, because this is right up there as far as true horror comics go.

As a Silent Hill book, I'm giving it four and a half (actually four and three quarters, but I don't think our little score system can handle complex decimal point scores) but the overall story earsn a 5. Loved it and hope to see more creator owned material like this.
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