What would you do to save someone you love? How far would you go? It’s an age-old question and one that’s been asked in many different ways and answered in just as many, but there’s never been an exploration of that question quite as haunting as Jason McNamara and Greg Hinkle’s “The Rattler”.
Join as on a dark and twisted path for our full spoiler free review of this devastating and emotional graphic novel.
Written by Jason McNamara
Illustrated by Greg Hinkle
Ten years have passed since Stephen Thorn’s fiancée vanished without a trace, and he has grown into a prominent, if bitter, victim’s rights crusader. Despite the cold trail and lack of leads, he stubbornly refuses to give up the search. And then…he begins to hear her voice in the strangest of places. Pursued by his own organization and questioning his sanity, Stephen embarks on a grisly journey to save his long-lost love. As he unravels the truth of her disappearance, the body count rises and Stephen finds himself ensnared in a trap that had been set for him long ago.
“The Rattler” was inspired by an event – one, thankfully enough, not quite as brutal as anything we see in the graphic novel itself – that Jason McNamara experienced over a decade ago. It was also a graphic novel funded by Kickstarted and is now seeing a wide release through Image Comics. This is the story of a man who’s lost everything, but in doing so he gained so much more. A successful writing career, a household celebrity and a major influence in American lawmaking. It’s also a story about how far you’ll go and how much you’ll lose just to get back the one thing you lost in the first place. It’s dark and twisted in the perfect kind of way.
It’s also interesting that “The Rattler” drops after a weekend I spent marking out about the Punisher as Jason McNamara and Greg Hinkle’s exploration of Stephen Thorn’s twisted psyche reminded me a lot of ol’ skull vest.
This is not a graphic novel for the faint of heart. I mean, that’s the kind of thing you should glen from the cover in this case, but I was genuinely surprised at far “The Rattler” went during some scenes. Just when you think it can’t get any darker or that the rabbit hole can’t get any deeper, McNamara and Hinkle gleefully push Thorn into more and more desperate situations. It’s an interesting way of getting the reader to almost sympathise with the character. Listen: Stephen Thorn is not a good person here. Despite suffering a tragedy and going on to try and help people who have suffered in similar ways, he’s, in a word, kind of an asshole, but what makes McNamara’s writing so compelling is how he weaves this psychological thriller around Thorn’s one greatest tragedy. Even as you watch Thorn go off the deep end in ways you never thought the story would go, you end still rooting for the guy just in the vain hope that it’ll all be worth it in the end to get his fiancee back.
If McNamara’s writing is brutal, Greg Hinkle’s artwork is on another level. Looking like the hyperviolent version of a Coen Brothers movie by way of Sin City, Hinkle’s grey-toned allows for the harsh red of the blood, the single colour used throughout the comic, to become more than just a theming colour, it becomes a marker for just how far Thorn has come. Sure, it’s violent (and, boy howdy, is this comic violent), but Hinkle’s artwork isn’t just interesting when things get messy. His storytelling is crisp and clean and the graphic novel format means he isn’t bound to cramming chunks of the story into bite-sized chapters, allowing scenes and pages to get the space they need to breathe.
Hinkle’s style is a little hard to describe. It’s on the realistic side of things, for sure, but there’s a cartoonish exaggeration in how he draws faces that reminds of the over the top nature of comic books. That and monochromatic shading makes the more violent scenes easier to stomach, despite all the blood, than if it had been even more realistic or in full colour. It’s a dramatic effect and it allows Hinkle and McNamara to push the boundaries a little further than they could otherwise. Hinkle also makes great use of panel borders, which is a thing I don’t get to type very often, as he’ll have the borders of the panels become more ragged and edgy to match the intensity of the scenes. It’s a little visual touch that heightens the tension of the more dramatic scenes and brings that gut punch violence home.Continued below
A dark and compelling mystery that holds a horrible and psychologically charged secret at its core, “The Rattler” is a fantastic effort in giving me flop sweat while I read a comic. Seriously, I’ve read some dark stuff in my time, but there’s been nothing quite like “The Rattler” to shake me to my core. McNamara and Hinkle have done a great job in capturing that “Holy shit!” feeling when situations take a turn for the worst and you know there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Greg Hinkle’s art is spectacular here as the grey tones and use of a single colour throughout brings out an almost Hitchcockian aesthetic to the whole affair while Jason McNamara’s writing digs into the very soul of you, exploring every horrible and dark nook and cranny you wish you didn’t know about.
Final Verdict: 8.7 – A gut punch of a graphic novel that grabs you by the neck and doesn’t let go until all is said and done. Perfect for anyone who loves crime and mysteries or twisted explorations of the psyche.