Reviewer: Tim Stevens
Story Title: Uglyhead
Written by: Grant Morrison
Art by: Doug Mahnke
Colored by: John Kalisz
Lettered by: Phil Balsman
Editor: Peter Tomasi
Publisher: DC Comics
Horror is perhaps one of the most difficult genres to do well in comics. Steven Grant said it several months ago in his column at Comic Book Resources and I’m inclined to agree. Comics lack the ability to deliver the sudden shock (or the release of the “false” scare where we are lead to believe the killer is there when it is really…a cat! or some such) that movies and shows can and do provide. The only type of horror comics have the ability to pull off, typically, is the slow build of the creepy and otherworldly.
In this approach, Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein is an unequivocal success.
After a brief prologue that establishes an age old feud between Melmoth (last seen as the hustler/head of the child slavery ring in Klarion) and Frankenstein, Morrison eschews focusing on the titular monster (or gun toting, sword wielding champion in this case) to instead show us the world of small town high schools through the eyes of an outcast everyone calls “Uglyhead”. Ugly has recently experienced an awakening of sorts, one that allows him to hear the thoughts of his classmates. In a series of vignettes, he grows into this “gift” using it to expose his classmates frailties and eventually… well… that would be telling.
The “world” of the story is very much in the mold of a Stephen King story. This is your world, removed by just a small step. Thus, everything feels so ordinary and yet so overwhelmingly claustrophobic all at once. Morrison’s healthy heaping of butterfly references somehow only adds to the dread; such an innocuous and beautiful creature is subverted as a symbol of evil.
Morrison, however, is not alone in this effort. Mahnke’s work seals the deal. In two books released this week (the other being Vigilante) Mahnke altered his style slightly. The results are so-so in Vigilante, but dead on in this book (if you’ll forgive the pun). In particular, the splash page of the fate that awaited those students who arrived to the prom on time is skin crawlingly difficult to shake. It is the first piece of media (since Carrie) to make me thankful for my pretty lousy Senior prom experience. Mahnke’s depiction of Frankenstein also matches the tone of the script well. He is clearly a patchwork monster filled with a powerful capacity to destroy. However, he is also quite noble and spiritual in Mahnke’s rendering.
I have enjoyed the Seven Soldiers project as a whole, but I think this is probably the best first issue of the bunch, surpassing Klarion in this regard.