Alice Creed would be everyone’s favorite Princeton professor, that is if she ever bothered to show up for class. Instead, she moonlights as a private detective dealing in supernatural circumstances and monster hunting. Obviously, this really eats into her lecture time. “Semiautomagic” collects the first two stories of the weird investigative serial from Alex De Campi and Jerry Ordway, offering up enough elements of the genre to satisfy fans of eldritch horror.
Written by Alex De Campi
Illustrated by Jerry Ordway and Marissa Louise
Professor Alice Creed doesn’t have tenure. And she never will, as long as she keeps ditching her lectures to kill monsters. But when a dark force from between universes begins seducing young souls through an innocent computer game, she packs her occult relics, holy water, and iPad to kick eldritch ass!
If Alex De Campi has one major modus operandi, it’s telling classic horror stories with an awareness of modern technology. I don’t know if I would say she completely embraces the technology: after all, the events in “Semiautomagic” are triggered after a boy downloads a torrent of a fake video game and gets his soul sucked away. But she’s aware of it, her characters aren’t averse to it, and its incorporation does help her stories feel more grounded and centered. Alice Creed, for instance, isn’t too far removed from a classic monster hunter like Van Helsing. She’s burying tragedies of her past in her current work, she’ll drop everything to take care of weird occurrences across the country, her investigative prowess is meticulous and thorough, and the people around her tend to suffer. She just knows how to use an iPad and speak in a manner that gamers in forums can understand.
Nothing in “Semiautomagic” is unexpected or surprising. It works mostly because the storytelling is so functional and precise. De Campi crafts her scenes to be short and snappy. She makes sure we get enough about Alice Creed to understand her motivations and ultimate goals. Her knowledge and capabilities are confronted from the start by the slew of monsters and wicked creatures. I do think some character elements were introduced suddenly as the story got underway, but I’d chalk that up to De Campi discovering new information about the character when constructing the initial serial. Ordway’s presentation might feature some chaotic and unnecessary panel compositions — he stacks his frames haphazardly and without regard for any rhythm and his staging sometimes runs over-dramatic, like when Alice Creed arrives at the airport — but he does well with staging the book, with leading us through the sets. His characters interact with the environments and don’t feel like they just sort of sit on the scenery. He takes off when the story calls for weird and bizarre imagery, providing some fun horror drawings.
What set the book a part for me was its willingness to deal with consequences. The second part centers around Alice Creed facing the fallout from her actions from the first part. The monster running around constantly comes up against her weaknesses and faults, and it gives the conflict some real drama.
“Semiautomagic” originally appeared in short chapters throughout “Dark Horse Presents,” and that serial nature shows itself more obviously here than in some of De Campi’s other books, like “No Mercy” or “Archie vs. Predator.” Alice Creed repeats “I am Alice Creed” enough times that it’s almost a mantra. De Campi provides in-text recaps every eight or ten pages, and I’m sure that was enough to bring us up to speed during the “DHP” days, but it feels irrelevant and halting here. De Campi letters the book herself, which she sees as a way to do a final pass at the material, and I dunno if it’s even feasible, but I think another pass for the collection would’ve benefitted the flow and terror all the better.
Overall, “Semiautomagic” is a respectable piece of entertainment. The storytelling is functional and generally assured; Alice Creed’s an interesting character to watch and follow through this narrative. De Campi and Ordway deliver their information efficiently and with strong control, never going too far into the weird to distance us from the characters. There’s nothing badly done in the production, though there are elements that feel off, a bit out-of-sync. But for some fun eldritch horror and magical detective work, this book is pretty satisfying.Continued below
Final Verdict: 7.0 – Undoubtedly, the mystery and monster hunting play better when put together whole, but the book doesn’t entirely smoothly translate to a collection.