A dark mystery with late 60s counter-culutre, zen mysticism and murder making up the whirlpool of this premiere issue, with a young murdered girl, lost in time at the center of this mini-series. Some Spoilers Ahead.
Written by J.M. DeMatteis
Illustrated by Corin Howell
Colored by James Devlin
Lettered by Clem Robins
In 1969 teenage girl Kathy, who is only happy when she is trying a new drug or hanging with her small group of friends goes out to the local dive bar. After a bad reaction to dropping acid, she goes outside for some fresh air and meets a mysterious guy, Hugh, who seemingly takes a liking to her.
After walking to the pier, discussing zen authors for a few minutes, and feeling an immediate connection, Kathy decides to go in for a kiss. This is where everything goes wrong. Hugh’s demeanor changes completely. He plunges a huge curved knife into Kathy’s gut and throws her into the bay. As she sinks to the ocean floor, it is then that she realizes she has been murdered and feels her life slipping away. Unbeknownst to her, a supernatural figure helps her survive the ordeal and she heads for home.
The start of this story is perfectly paced and executed. DeMatteis is a veteran comic book and television writer who knows how to give readers the appropriate amount of information. We receive all of the necessary details to understand the characters and the world they inhabit without slowing the pace to a crawl to shove extraneous plot threads into the narrative. Because he uses real events of the past to set up exactly where and when she is living, it gives us an instantly comfortable setting to slip into. Surely, most people reading this comic weren’t alive in 1969, but his characterizations are relatable to any time period. Kathy’s voice comes so naturally that from page one, you will be pulled into her story before you ever realize it. Her narration is key to this tale because everything she says is so reasonable and understandable that when things begin to go awry we are in the same state of shock that she is. At the same time we can’t really be sure what is real. Because she admits to using more than one drug and we see her drop acid, can we trust the events as they unfold?
Corin Howell’s style is finely detailed with open-faced characters that feel familiar in many ways. They are archetypes we have seen many times before: friendly landlady, free spirited teen girl, strict parents. They are readily accessible just like DeMatteis’s words. Colored by James Devlin, the art takes on a bright and nearly cheery look; even when the story is hitting its bleakest moments. It’s an interesting contrast that can be found in many horror or thriller comics, but it doesn’t always work here. On some levels it makes the story more inviting so that when bad things do happen, it leans towards being shocking and unexpected, but that can only take the book so far. The softness of the character designs and bright palette unfortunately take away from a lot of the dread that should be more present. It is hard to criticize the artwork because it is wonderful and masterfully done, but it allows for some of the maturity of the story to be lost in translation. And by all accounts this comic is for mature readers, even if it tends to look like a kid-friendly book.
Clem Robins’s lettering style fits the story well enough, having a soft, wispy quality that feels cozy alongside the magical elements throughout, but some lettering is unclear and I found myself having to re-read a word here and there so it unfortunately does not always work.Continued below
“The Girl in the Bay” offers darkness and unsettling moments, even with its brightly colored pages. With hints of magic and wild supernatural elements mixed with late 60s cult paranoia makes for Manson Family meets “Locke & Key” and less Twin Peaks or True Detective. Even if not everything works, DeMatteis’s script is a highlight. The clean and detailed art is gorgeous with Howell’s perfect line work and Devlin’s beautiful color scope. Regular readers of murder mysteries and the paranormal will find something to like and this mini-series is another great addition to Dark Horse Comics’s Berger Books imprint.
Final Verdict: 8.0, Even with some minor stylistic flaws, “The Girl in the Bay” #1 begins a truly fascinating and dark fantasy that is guaranteed to draw you in.