Bartholomew of the Scissors, no. 1, the first issue in the Blue Water Comics series penned by League stalwart Chad Helder and sporting some truly fascinating art from Daniel Crosier (with “graphics” by Joel Robinson – I admit, I don’t know exactly what that entails, but if he contributed to the unique look of the book, he deserves props), is a cryptic and compellingly raw mix of cosmic horror, X-Files-style plotting, slasher-grade violence, references to King and Lovecraft, and J-horror tropes. Helder/Crosier/Robinson et al have pulled together an intriguing and original first act that combines familiar ideas in a fresh way, giving iconic horror concepts an invigorating shot in the arm.
First, let's talk plot. As this is the first ish, most of the work here the necessary, but often thankless and therefore neglected, work of introducing characters, laying down ground rules, and introducing plot threads that will demand more attention later. Helder takes to the work with genuine vigor. The central story involves a sinister ghost child, the titular Bartholomew. Prior to becoming a decidedly unfriendly ghost, Bart was murdered by an unnamed man who dressed the young Bart up as a girl, recorded his violent demise, and then broadcast it upon the Interwebs. Understandably bitter, Bart now brings down all unholy hell on anybody who finds and watches the broadcast of his murder. And I mean bring down with a capital B and D. Bart's S.O.P. is a particularly nasty bit of business called the scissor swarm – a brutal barrage of flying scissors that turn their intended target into a flesh, bloody, and unhappy pincushion. Parallel to Bart's homicidal revenge plot runs the story of Jessica, who has access to a supernatural fire entity that may be barely controlled manifestation of her id or may be some freaky monster using Jessica in some as yet unrevealed manner. Then there's the tired, yet stoic and determined Gordon Watt: paranormal investigator and Bart chaser. Imagine somebody cast Gary Oldman in Commissioner Gordon mode as Mulder in X-Files and you've got a idea of the character. Oh, and let's not forget the cult that appears to worship some sort of Lovecraftian jellyfish. There's a lot more introduced than solved here. Though Helder does some pulling together: Watt recruits Jessica for his hunt and the cult dangles safety from Bart as the bait that lures in one of their less fortunate recruits. Still, the best measure of the writing is that I look forward to the solution of these mysteries with anticipation rather than fatigue.
As good as the writing is, BotS's secret weapon is the art. One of the reasons that Helder's use of familiar horror tropes doesn't feel shopworn is that BotS doesn't look like any comic book you've ever seen. What I think is going on is this: the art is drawn, then etched into wood, then photographed, then touched up and overlaid with lettering elements and the like. The edgy, sketchy art incorporates the grain and knots of the wood. It's pretty brilliant and it gives the whole thing this great primitivist feel – like you found the untutored artwork of some backwoods horror cargo cultist who has been receiving stray de-scrambled snatches of fright flicks and, not understanding he's seen several different movies, stitched them all together in some wild masterwork on the wall of his shotgun shack. The irony, of course, is that is it serious work making this stuff look like it just happens. This is especially admirable considering they could have phoned this in. Successful horror series have gotten by with considerably less ambitiously idiosyncratic art.
All in all, an auspicious beginning.
Now I know what you're thinking. "CRwM, you're one of them!" you say. "You League guys always stick up for one another."
Fair enough. To prove I'm not just saying nice things because Helder's a card-carrying LoTTD member, I'm going to say something critical of the comic. The jellyfish monster looks a bit like an irate Jell-O mold with streamers coming from it. To be fair, seeing a giant, sentient Jell-O mold with streamers coming from it would scare me in real life, but on the page, it is more odd than frightening.
There. Now that BotS has felt the sting of my acidic insight, it's clear CRwM is nobody's stooge. With my street cred fully intact, I give Bartholomew of the Scissors the ANTSS seal of approval. It's from Blue Water, cover price: three Washingtons and some change. Don't wait for the trade paperback. People who wait for the trade paperback are worse than Hitler. You know who you are.