Back in black…and by black I mean Indie Horror Comics, the blackest of black, the darkest of dark (Ed- the horrorest of the horror).
Let it never be said that HoH aren’t global explorers of the delights that horror has to show us. That being said, this installment of The Horror (Comics) needs a geographically contextualising preamble. The three of us never really discuss on the podcast where in the world we’re from, but it should be fairly obvious from any of our episodes, or from the colloquialisms that litter this web page, which side of the Atlantic we reside and whilst horror is the universal language (dialect holds no barrier to a scream) sports is most definitely not. So know that, whilst I am an avid Seahawks fan, I am of the ilk that refers to them as an American Football team- so as not to confuse them with the practitioners of the beautiful game that are my beloved Sampdoria. To me Fabio Quagliarella is a footballing legend, but for the context of this week's The Horror (Comics)! he is, begrudgingly, a soccer hero.
Prior to reading this, my only familiarity with the term Soccer Mom was when the 2008 Presidential Election was worldwide news and Sarah Palin kept being referred to, and referring to herself, as a soccer mom (Ed- I thought Palin's schtick was Hockey Mom, but the point still stands- something about the difference between a hockey mom and a pitbull being lipstick). It confused me and even now when I hear the phrase it is her that I mentally conjure. So with that in mind, I approached The Soccer Mom Killer the same way I imagine (but am willing to be proven wrong) a majority of Americans would approach a comic called, say The Cricket Murderer – Death at the Crease*: with a hefty research session.
A half hour later and I can confidently tell you what constitutes a soccer mom, and by confidently I mean I’ve read a Wikipedia article that tells me that for the horror-loving comic fan outside the States it’s the stereotype of a middle class, suburban, white woman (Ed- I believe the modern parlance is a "Karen"). Taking from the same article's ‘Criticisms’, section there are suggestions of over-parenting, forcing achievement on their children and stopping at nothing to cultivate their progress. So after that hefty preamble and having read the first two issues of The Soccer Mom Killer I can confidently say you really don’t need to be familiar with US parenting techniques to enjoy the murderous machinations of The Soccer Mom Killer but you do need a taste for gore and criminology.
The self published Dynamic Duo responsible for The Soccer Mom Killer are author Stephen Hines and artist Nela Vohenska and if I were to offer you a one line summary, a HoH spoiler free trailer, so to speak, of their work on S.M.K I would say to you that it is a community based story with shades of Se7en told in a style that evokes Charles Burns classic Black Hole.
Whilst spoiling is very much our raison d'etre, I’m going to try and keep plot points (that aren’t obvious, like the intended victims of our killer) to a minimum and give you a flavour of what I noticed when I read S.M.K Hopefully give you a sense of whether this is going to be your cup of tea (which has been brewed by leaving the bag in the cup of boiled water for two minutes, before adding a dash of milk)**.
S.M.K clearly has roots in both the slasher and giallo, not in the colour palette, but in the way that our killer is framed and never shown, their identity and reasoning an evolving mystery. Our killer is clearly aware that they are of a bygone age, railing against the perceived ‘social cancer’ with the primitive choice of weapon of the slasher villains of yesteryear. However, where Se7ven’s John Doe used the deadly sins to justify his murder spree in a city of squalor, S.M.K has targeted a specific social stereotype which hints at a more personal, singular, slight than a true belief in eradicating overbearing parenting. This is also hinted at as S.M.K appears to choose their victims from a suburban community pool, based on rudeness as much as any specific distasteful human trait. Whilst John Doe cared more what the victim represented than who they are, S.M.K appears an entirely different kettle of fish; one who I suspect (but could be wrong) is working up to a single, all important kill. Somehow I don’t think it’s Sarah Palin, but as I said, I’ve not got any other references for famous soccer moms. Equal parts John Doe and the black gloved killer from Deep Red (even I’m not spoiling that), the S.M.K’s motivations to kill are clear, but who they are and why the biblical wrath is being directed at this communities stereotype are far from revealed.
Nela Vohenska’s art work perfectly suits the narrative and whilst I’ve offered Black Hole as a reference point there is a unique quality to the style that at times reminds me of the gore of Junji Ito and some of the more abstract parts of Sandman. That the dialogue and story remind me as much of some of the works of Bill Hicks (there is an interlude about indoctrination has shades of Hicks ideology and distaste for fundamentalism as a barrier to true learning) as it does The Pledge (Jack Nicolson, massively underrated film…not horror) should give you a hint as to how much room the story still has to expand and the potential for truly dark conclusions.
All that said, if police procedural bothers you, and I know those it does (but I will defend Hellraiser Judgement to the last) then S.M.K almost certainly isn’t for you, but if any of the other references or hints I’ve given sound appealing and you’ve got a craving for gore, mystery and old school police work then The Soccer Mom Killer has only just begun to terrorise the community's mini-Palins.
Next week we're turning our horror comic attention to a cookbook***:
ANTHONY BOURDAIN'S HUNGRY GHOSTS
As ever, our message is to support your local comic book store and to give a plug for our favourite Chaos City Comics, but we're also going to encourage supporting indie comics like The Soccer Mom Killer. If you like the sound of Stephen Hines and Nela Vohenska's work, then take a look at their Kickstarter campaign (now closed) and lend your support.
If you have any suggestions of horror comics you think we should be looking at, get in touch and let us know...
*I intend to write this….Issue 1, Brutalising the Biffer (Ed- I wholeheartedly support this enterprise...this must happen!)
**Ed- mea culpa, I might be from the British side of the Atlantic, but I cannot stand tea. It tastes like the strainings from the devil's jockstrap (to quote The Fast Show)
***Ed- part comic, part cookbook