20th May2016

‘Straitjacket’ Graphic Novel Review

by Dean Fuller

Written by El Torres | Art by Guillermo Sanna | Published by Amigo Comics

straitjacket-cover

I hate it when the title of a book sometimes has no relation to the content within, or has very little relevance. No problem with that here, we have a title and a book that does exactly what it says on the tin. Straitjacket is the collection of a mini-series published last year, and takes the attitude that if you want a horror book, then you should make it every bit as good as something you can watch on screen. After all, comics are every bit as visual as television and film and, of course, have much better special effects budgets. A good story can, and should, work in most mediums, and I sort of went into reading this taking that attitude. Can this be as good as a horror movie? Let’s find out.

From the very beginning ambiguity and uncertainty surround the main character, Alexandra Wagner. We know she murdered her brother when she was 12, as we see her do it, but did she really do it to defend us from the Otherside, or is she just delusional? At the start Alexandra is in an exclusive psychiatric hospital where a new psychiatrist, Dr Hayes, has been assigned to her. Their routine chat suddenly changes completely when we see through Alexandra’s eyes; she doesn’t just see the ‘real’ world, she sees the darkness that is all around us all the time, including things in the darkness. Including her dead brother. Is this all real? Dr Hayes suspects she suffers from ‘Luna syndrome’, a delusional illness.

As Dr Hayes builds up his relationship with Alexandra, she starts to reveal little things, such as her suspicions of fellow patient Raoul, the fact she is pretending to be insane to hide more effectively, and that Dr Hayes needs to watch for the Feeders, beings from the darkness who are now following him. Feeders can inhabit people so they look normal to you and me but are actually harvesting people secretly. We finally know for sure Alexandra is not delusional when she survives an attack by having her ‘dead’ brother drag her out of this reality into the Otherside (though Dr Hayes tries to rationally explain how she got out his own way).

She next shows up in Dr Hayes apartment, where she reveals more about the Otherside. It’s a place we see out the corner of our eye, especially when younger, and the Feeders use people, especially people in authority, to leech off and hurt us. Things take a turn for the worse when her brother, Alex, is captured by Raoul who is catatonic but being used by the Feeders. Alexandra returns to the hospital, but devastated her link to her brother has been cut, not knowing how or why. Her attack and murder of Raoul is necessary, but to everyone else it appears her delusions are worsening, as is her mental state. I won’t spoil the ending but it doesn’t disappoint, and it delivers that old standby, the twist. I never saw it coming.

This is a very good book. Although I read it through as the complete collection, which made for a good unbroken narrative, I still appreciated the way each chapter ended, upping the suspense each time. This was a book that although seemingly primarily psychological horror was not afraid to delve into the gore and violence when the story took it there. As with a Stephen King book, do not let the schlocky reputation of the horror genre mislead you. This was extremely well written, with pages and pages of great dialogue, notably between two excellently drawn out characters in Alexandra and Dr Hayes. Their conversations were superbly written and illustrated.

The artwork throughout was excellent. Drawn in black and white, and with red the only colour allowed, it made for a menacing, creepy visual the whole way through. The violence seemed more primal and visceral, with flashes of red in the black and white, and Sanna managed to make everything interesting to look at, both in the real world and the Other one. The art made the story stand out even more, and if there was an ounce of menace that was left on the artists table I would be very surprised indeed.

As I said at the beginning, the title Straitjacket is very apt, because the story deals with straitjackets of both mind and body, being held prisoner in both a physical sense and a mental sense. Is reality a straitjacket? The straitjacket is a mental one we all willingly wear as we are too scared to admit the truth, that these creatures exist and we choose not to see them. The symbolism of how easily Alexandra throws off the physical straitjacket in the story though is telling, as she is also the only one to have thrown off the mental one.

If you enjoy horror books, films or comics, I guarantee you will enjoy this. Top notch stuff.

****½  4.5/5

Straitjacket is available now from Amigo Comics

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