01st May2015

‘Anathema Book 1: The Evil That Men Do’ Review (Titan Comics)

by Dean Fuller

Written by Rachel Deering | Art by Christopher Mooneyham, Wesley St. Clare | Published by Titan Comics | Format: Paperback, 96pp

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A little bit of research showed that this title has had quite the history in its short life. Creator Rachel Deering has used Kickstarter to try and raise funds to get the title self published, had artists drop out on her, has had to fire artists, and had virtually every publisher she approached reject the title. After all that, it’s nice it finally has a settled home at Titan Comics. So what exactly is Anathema?

The easiest way to classify it is to call it ‘classic’ horror. It has the deliberate look and feel of those 60′s and 70′s Hammer horror films, mixed in with the pulpiness of EC Comics and the black & white magazines from Warren Publishing. The creator Rachel Deering is very upfront about wanting to write a book she would read as a ‘classic’ horror fan, and she has certainly captured the mood and spirit very well.

The story plays out on a couple of levels, but the central story is that of Mercy Barlowe.  Set in ye olde Puritan days, Mercy is a young woman who’s relationship with another women is discovered, and both women are to be burned as witches. She escapes, but before her partner dies at the stake mysterious creatures appear who steal her life essence, her ‘soul’. Mercy vows to avenge her, and to rescue her soul, and goes down a pretty drastic route by finding some magic of her own and transforming herself into a werewolf to better take on the magical soul stealers. The question is, can she control her new powers?

In terms of the mood Rachel Deering is trying to capture, the gothic horror feel, she does an excellent job. The dialogue and story beats are strong, and the story is populated by characters who would be at home in many a gothic horror story. The two areas of uniqueness come from the lead character. Firstly, having the lead character as a woman, in a story set in times when women’s roles were very subservient, is an interesting wrinkle. Secondly, making her a gay woman in that era. This is by no means a gimmick either, as her sexuality is the trigger for all the events that follow.

I like as well that Mercy is not a ‘hero’ in the traditional sense. She is motivated by revenge, and is not above embracing dark forces herself to try and achieve her goal, driven by her personal guilt. Every gothic horror story going back to the eighteenth century requires the conflicted, brooding anti-hero lead, and Mercy doesn’t disappoint.

The art on the whole compliments the mood very well. Moody and atmospheric, told in quite traditional panel layout, not too busy and easy to follow. I prefer the art of Christopher Mooneyham, who pencils and inks the first 2 parts, more than Wesley St Claire, who pencils and inks the last part, just because it is a little darker, has that touch of a Kelley Jones about it. St Claire is technically strong, but lacking a little menace in a story that obviously needs that to work.

Clearly a labour of love from its creator, Anathema embraces the traditional while adding a modern twist, and the book is all the stronger for it. The additional pin ups and extra unused pages thrown in as extras are a nice touch as well, giving the reader good value for money. Creators like Rachel Deering should be encouraged, to keep this art form fresh, diverse, and interesting.

***½   3.5/5

Anathema Book 1: The Evil That Men Do is released by Titan Comics on May 13th.

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