The best works of horror fiction, whether they be a novel, film or comic book, aren’t just about thrills and screams. They hit upon the fears of the human mind and illustrate the downright scary nature of things that are in fact all too real, not simply boogeymen and that which goes bump in the night. Along the lines of an instant classic like 2018’s Hereditary or Stephen King’s iconic The Shining, family trauma sits at the heart of Something Is Killing the Children #5, perhaps the best horror series on the market right now from writer James Tynion IV, illustrator Werther Dell’Edera and colorist Miquel Muerto.
The slow burn that Tynion IV has been building to over the series’ first four issues hits a cascade here. The psychologically broken Tommy Mahoney, still reeling from the death of his younger sister at the hands of the monster (monsters?) plaguing Archer’s Peak, Wisconsin, finds out that seeing truly is believing. He learns that Erica Slaughter has been right from the start and that something inhuman has been killing the children all along. It hasn’t been James, a kid who hasn’t recovered from the death of his entire circle of friends right in front of his face, who has become friendless and pariah in his close-knit hometown before he’s even had a chance to grow up and live a “normal” life.
People fear isolation. People fear abandonment. People fear the unexplainable. People fear the grief that comes with burying a loved one. Tynion IV has become a master of the grim and suspenseful after his near-decade playing around in the Batman universe and his time with the creepy Justice League Dark ongoing at DC Comics. That experience has bolstered his ability to create something smaller in scope, more personal and, in turn, all the more frightful here, as a reader could imagine themselves being a weary lifelong resident of Archer’s Peak or maybe they even see themselves and their own sorrows in the way Tommy and James are battling their own personal demons, to say nothing of Erica’s mysterious past.
Tynion IV could have every possible idea of trauma and ways to terrify his audience floating around in his head, but it’s not fully realized without an art team like Dell’Edera and Muerto bringing a series so consumed by death to life. The pop culture realm has seen an influx of King-influenced, 1980s-inspired stories of the small town variety and whether they’ve been on the big or small screen, they all seemingly have the same intended timeless vibe with color palettes that are indistinguishable from one another. The one element that strikes me most about this art team is that it does not fall into that trap and stands on its own as wholly unique.
Readers don’t need to see every nightmare-inducing limb of this cave-dwelling creature terrorizing Archer’s Peak, as the imagination of what this beast looks like in full is somehow more skin-crawling than a double splash page of the children-killing monster. That line work from Dell’Edera is the perfect alley-oop lob for Muerto’s coloring, who easily lands the slam dunk. The way his reds pop so vibrantly against this issue’s dark backgrounds are reminiscent of Dave Stewart’s legendary work with Hellboy, as Erica’s blood-splattered look will sit with the audience long after they’ve put this issue down.
BOOM! Studios has been on a nice run over the year or so, not too dissimilar from Image Comics’ own diverse, creator-owned explosion at the beginning of the last decade. With Simon Spurrier’s Coda finishing in 2019, Lumberjanes continuing as an omnipresent force and Kieron Gillen’s fantasy epic Once & Future developing strongly already, Something Is Killing the Children is emerging as a title worthy of being the flagship ongoing for the publisher.