Horror can be tricky to pull off in comic books. It’s not just in how you draw some horrific images, but in how you build tension in establishing the scenario and placing characters you have some engagement with. Last year came the release of Infidel, which achieved everything that a horror comic should set out to do and ended up being my favorite comic of 2018. Dark Horse’s new story The Whispering Dark is out in trade paperback — does it chill us and give us something to say about the darkness in humanity?
In this four-issue limited series, we follow a squad of Army Rangers who are being hunted by the Russians after their helicopter was shot down behind enemy lines. Surviving on little more than go-pills and fear, the leadership eventually lies on the shoulders of co-pilot Hannah Vance, whose faith towards God is put to the test during this perilous journey that will take her and her team to a great evil.
Hannah’s Christian faith plays a huge role from the very beginning, where she is in a church with her father as they talk about her joining the army that will take her to fight in foreign territories. During this conversation, the two discuss evil taking many forms, not of all them obvious. This scene sets up the central theme throughout this narrative of survival thriller and faith-based horror.
As stated on the back cover of this paperback edition, The Whispering Dark aims to combine Lovecraft and Apocalypse Now with a dash of Behind Enemy Lines. That’s a high bar to reach and I don’t think this book ever succeeds on this ambition. Following its church-based intro, the first issue opens with fire and destruction as Hannah’s squad just escaped from the wreckage. They must continue to escape from their current destination.
This story is very much a slow-burner. We get to know these Army Rangers, who are left on the edge, and even though their voices are heard and distinct, they get sidelined by their co-pilot and her overlong narration. There is a common problem with comics that rely too much on the captions as a form of narration, because the visuals should tell us what we should be feeling rather than telling us how we should. Writer Christofer Emgard falls into this problem, but despite that he sets up an interesting arc about a woman who has to take charge. While wrestling with her religious faith during this descent into darkness, though, her internal monologue can be too much.
Having previously drawn horror comics such as Night of the Living Dead for Avatar Press, Tomas Aira knows to draw the horrific, whether it’s Russia’s snowbound war-filled environments soaked in blood and corpses, or the supernatural creatures that are sprinkled throughout and all the way to the story’s hellish finale. As the book slowly transitions from harsh realism to fantasy horror, Aira aims for a realistic presentation towards his characters and although his art can be rough around the edges, it’s serviceable in visualizing the dour nature of the narrative.
It may not be as ambitious as its elevator pitch suggests, but The Whispering Dark is a decent mashup of war, horror and religion.