Warning: This review will feature some disturbing and graphic artwork so if you’re squeamish, you might want to skip this one.
In honor of the spirit of Halloween, this month I will be focusing on graphic novel series that deal with some aspect of horror. Since I touched on zombies last week with iZombie, this week I’ll be looking at the fear and dread inspired by insane asylums via the Colder series. Colder is written by Paul Tobin and illustrated by Juan Ferreyra and is quite possibly the strangest and most graphically disturbing series I’ve read for Graphic Reviews. I generally find stories with asylums to be super creepy, often because the staff of the asylums are usually at least as insane and sadistic as the inmates. Colder is a short series with just two volumes. It succeeds magnificently in its creepy, gory promise in the first but unfortunately falls short in the second. A third volume is due out next year so it will be interesting to see where Tobin and Ferreyra take it in the future.
The story follows a man named Declan Thomas, an ex-inmate of Sansid Asylum which was destroyed by fire in 1941. Declan’s body temperature has been slowly dropping since the destruction of the asylum and he has become completely unresponsive since that day. Neither talking nor appearing to take in his surroundings, Declan is first the subject of medical experiments as his miraculous survival continues to baffle doctors. But when all fail to figure out the reason for his bizarre state, he becomes a ward of the state of Massachusetts. Declan is passed from one care facility to another until finally a young nurse named Reece Talbot decides to become his caretaker. Unbeknownst to the rest of the world, Declan has rather unique abilities that allow him to navigate both the realms of the real, sane world and an alternate realm of insanity and monsters. And when an old and dangerous enemy named Nimble Jack finally figures out that Declan’s still alive, Boston is in for one hell of a nightmare. Declan must emerge from his comatose state and use his abilities in order to protect Reece and prevent all of Boston from descending into madness.
The story of Colder is split into two volumes: the original five issues which were collected in the first volume and deal with Declan and his old enemy Nimble Jack, and the Bad Seed series which finally reveals just how Declan got his strange abilities and a new enemy for Declan to face. The first volume is an original, creepy take on horror that ends up having a very interesting discussion on insanity. Throughout this volume, Nimble Jack does his best to drive Declan’s caretaker insane in order to bring Declan out of hiding. The ways in which Declan uses his abilities to manipulate madness in others in order to travel between realms was fascinating. The nightmare realm was legitimately horrifying and Nimble Jack was the perfect, Joker-esque villain for a story about the limits of sanity. Unfortunately, the second volume is a hot mess of gore and nonsensical storytelling that is very underwhelming after the promise of the first volume. Gore isn’t normally something that bothers me but Bad Seed was disgusting and bizarre just for the sake of being so rather than for any logical reason. The revelation of Declan’s origins should have been interesting and compelling and ended up feeling like watching a horror movie on acid. Maybe you’d be a fan if you enjoy torture porn like Saw but it just felt pointlessly gross to me.
If there’s one reason to read Colder, it’s the artwork. The story in the first volume is interesting if not unforgettable and the second make no sense at all but throughout Ferreyra comes through with incredible, unforgettable panels. There’s artwork I have loved because I wanted to paste it all over my walls but Ferreyra’s will haunt my dreams. The nightmare realm reminds me in both scheme and horror of Pan’s Labyrinth. The twisted forms of the creatures and the dark colors combine perfectly to create this alternate realm that feels like the worst nightmare you’ve ever had. And when Nimble Jack causes the terror from the alternate realm to enter the real world, there are some very nasty and disturbing panels that make the story much creepier than it ever could be on its own. I didn’t particularly enjoy the Bad Seed series but even so, the artwork alternately disgusted and freaked me out enough to compete with most nightmares. So major kudos to Juan Ferreyra for giving me gory artwork that actually succeeded in making me queasy.
It’s pretty rare for me to find a horror series within the graphic novel genre that can succeed in not only creeping me out but genuinely horrifying me. I’d definitely say that Colder qualified in both areas. Unfortunately, the story for Bad Seed made so little sense that it distracted from an otherwise intriguing and disturbing series. On the basis of the incredible artwork, I’d recommend this story to most horror fans, just don’t expect a whole lot of depth out of the story itself and especially not in the second half. I’ll probably pick up the third volume when it comes out to see if it can be redeemed but sadly Bad Seed just couldn’t fulfill the promise of the first volume and diminished the series as a whole.