Happy Halloween, my friends! The spirits of old are soaring high & mighty throughout this glorious time of tricks & treats and no pandemic is going to dampen their glory, so neither will it be able to fester upon my soul since I have many stories to unweave and review. On that note, I welcome you to the final entry of this unusual string of four-paneled assessments known as…
For this one, I’m feeling reminiscent of multiple horror stories told within a single issue. As any of my longtime followers know, this isn’t the first time that I’ve tackled these kinds of comics. In October 2018, I spent the first three weeks reviewing three anthology books, starting with a four-pack of eerie narratives told within the realms of Cleveland, Ohio. From there, I talked about a trinity of titanic teams each dealing with a particular evil over the ages. Finally, we had several of Batman’s infamous rogues swapping stories with each other while waiting for their moment to bust out of Arkham. Now, I’m closing out this virus-infected Season of the Witch by delving into the independent scene. In particular, we have Zero Press Comics providing multiple tales for our ghoulish delights. As such, we’ll be taking a look at a little anthology book called…
Published in 2015, this comic-based compilation contains three tales entirely written by Brendan Hykes. So, what trinity of terror awaits us within these hallowed haunting grounds? Let’s dig into this graveyard and find out!
We open on our first tale called “Flotsam” (Pencils: Kevin Enhart, Inks: Sean Reinhart) where a ship and its crew is sailing out at sea. Suddenly, they come across a wrecked vessel. After arriving at the remaining debris, they investigate the scene and discover a woman on board who’s barely alive. As such, the captain orders for her to be taken to his sleeping quarters and to also bring their doctor in on this, despite one crewmate believing in the age-old belief that it’s a jinx to have a lady on board. As the woman sleeps, the doctor concludes his finding by telling the captain that she’s currently in a traumatic coma and that he’s unsure whether she’ll be able to wake up from it within the next several hours. Afterwards, they’re met upon by the crew as they express their mixed feelings over her. However, the captain tells them that aside from him & the doctor, no one is allowed to be near her and thus shall be left alone for now.
Later that night, the captain is within his sleeping quarters when he starts to hear the young woman beginning to wake up. Up on the deck, the worrisome crewmate talks with the doctor about the bad feeling that he’s having about the lady that they rescued, believing that she’s somehow brought “the whole crew under her spell”. The doctor explains that the crew hasn’t physically seen a lady for the past several months and that it’s possibly causing this uneasiness. Despite that rational reasoning, the crewmate still decides to confront the captain. Just as he arrives at his master’s sleeping quarters, his leader emerges from within and gets told that the woman is somehow evil and she must be removed from the ship. However, the captain says that she’s too weary before ordering his crewmate to summon the doctor. Later on as daybreak arrives, a pair of crewmates mention that the unconscious woman has woken up as one of them even considers visiting her. As such, another crewmate is just outside of the captain’s quarters doing some investigating. However, he gets caught by the captain as the woman tells him that he’s “seen too much” and he must be punished for his action.
From there, the crewmate is being held at gunpoint while he’s forced to stand right next to the side while the crew watches. The doctor asks the worrisome crewmate what’s going on here, to which he gets told that this is the result of the lady having the captain wrapped around her finger. As such, the doctor tells his leader to stop this nonsense. However, the captain is under the belief that the crewmate intended to harm the woman and that he won’t stand for this. As such, he fatally guns his crewmate down. Later that night, the doctor reaches the captain’s quarters and says that he needs to examine their patient. However, the leader mistakes this as a potentially sleazy act and chases him off. During this, the worrisome crewmate sees this and sneaks inside to confront the woman. She exclaims that he’s not as easily manipulated like the captain before revealing her true scales as a vile sea creature and her intent to kill them. Unbeknownst to the crew, her fellow aquatic monsters have been stealthily making their way on board. As the captain continues to chase after the doctor, he’s suddenly confronted by his paranoid crew for keeping the rescued woman for himself. As their leader threatens to fire at them for their claim, the story ends with the terrifying she-creature and her fellow subterranean comrades overwhelming the crew with the intent of feasting on them.
Next up, we head out west where a certain heist comes under the wrath of an ancient evil in “The Grave-Robber’s Curse” (Pencils: Pramit Santra, Lettering: Sean Reinhart). We begin with a bandit being pursued on horseback by a group of ruffians after robbing them before he ditches them by jumping over a cliff. Later, he arrives at a town where a sideshow vendor has attracted a crowd to observe the valuables of a pharaoh named Khufu, ranging from his organs removed for mummification to his treasures, with all of them taken from his burial chamber. However, he then warns the people that a curse will fall upon anyone who separates any of these valuables from its original master. Afterwards, he reveals Khufu’s mummified corpse to his audience. Unfortunately, the outlaw only notices the prized treasures that await his pilfering hands.
As such, night falls as the bandit takes advantage of the barker’s distraction as he steals some of the pharaoh’s valuables and manages to escape. Later, he’s out in the open range and resting up. Suddenly, he dreams about being approached by Khufu before being shown around his original homeland. Afterwards, the pharaoh demands for the return of his treasures. The bandit tries to claim ignorance before he’s suddenly tied to an X-shaped cross and gutted with several chains as Khufu tells him that he’ll be punished if his valuables aren’t returned.
From there, the bandit wakes up from his nightmare. However, he finds himself confronted by Khufu’s mummified corpse as he goes for his gun. With his shots doing nothing to the undead pharaoh, the outlaw hops onto his horse and attempts to outrun him. Unfortunately, Khufu has mystically caught up and surprises his stallion, causing him to get spooked and force his rider off before running away, thus leaving him at the mercy of the royal mummy. From there, the tale ends the next day with the vendor showing off Khufu’s corpse and treasures. When he mentions the curse that befalls upon anyone who attempts to pilfer the pharaoh’s valuables, he reveals the bandit’s corpse as proof of its existence.
For our last story, we have a haunting canine who’s symbolic nature will be made clear by the end in “The Black Dog” (Pencils: Chris Brown, Inks: Julia Nave. Lettering: Sean Rinehart). We open inside a cabin within the woods as our protagonist narrates about seeing a certain black dog three times in his life, beginning as a young boy. His drunken father angrily tells him to get rid of it due to its constant barking. Despite the youngster not hearing the frequent yapping, he heads outside where he ultimately confronts the fierce-looking black dog. This terrifies the boy as he runs back inside and closes the door before discovering that his father had died from his alcoholic drink. Several years pass by as he grows into a young man who’s walking through the woods with a bearded friend. As they talk about the relationship status of a barmaid named Mary, the friend suddenly hears some barking as our main man sees the black dog looking at him from afar before heading out.
At the tavern, the bearded friend feels the need to confront the hunter who’s marrying Mary. Unfortunately, it doesn’t end well for him as the huntsman fatally stabs him in the chest before our young man arrives too late to intervene. As such, he can only stand by his friend as he bleeds to death. Several more years pass as he grows into a married man as his wife is in the middle of giving birth to her child. She starts hearing a dog barking outside and wants it to stop, but the nurse doesn’t hear it. As the grown man realizes that it’s the same canine that’s been haunting him throughout the years, he decides to go confront the beast and chase it off. As he does so, the nurse tells him that there’s no dog to be found and that his wife needs him.
As such, he heads back inside and discovers that he’s the proud owner of a baby boy. Unfortunately, his wife sadly died in childbirth. Several more years proceed to go by as the man doesn’t come across the supernatural canine. However, he’s on his death bed as he suddenly hears a dog crying, to which a bedside friend says that he doesn’t hear anything. From there, our main man sees the titular being as it simply rests its head on his bed. And so, the comic ends with him petting the dog as he narrates that it doesn’t come along to take lives, but to either guide them into the afterlife or simply comfort them. From there, the man quietly passes on.
Overall, this is a humble anthology that delivers a mixture of emotions, ranging from chilling to thrilling and even had a pleasant surprise with its final tale’s twist ending. “Flotsam” has a paranoia vibe that comes with being isolated with an unknown entity. This descent into madness seems to start out as a growing obsession and it works in making the crew become suspicious of their captain. Whether there’s some off-panel manipulation that the seaside she-beast is causing is up for theorizing and interpretation, but it is a shock to see that she has several Trencher-esque creatures to help her out with their carnivorous feast. Had this story been allowed to have a whole issue to itself, perhaps it could have had her discreetly manipulating every crew member against each other and wait until they destroy themselves before swooping in to devour the remains, thus allowing her to be a singular terror. After all, it’s not until the very end that she’s revealed as an aquatic monster and that she has more of her own kind out within the oceanic depths. Even still, the onboard tension is still what helps this tale stand out in its own way and it helps in delivering some genuine paranoia that comes with the isolation. “Grave-Robber’s Curse” is a story that would feel right at home in something like “Tales From The Crypt”, where a despicable person whom we follow gets some kind of supernatural comeuppance. It also rings vibes of classic mummy movies where the mummified being stalks its prey, though this featured Pharaoh gets to be its own singular horrifying entity and not have any modern being either under its wing or controlling it for their own purpose. The details of how Khufu operates if his valuables are plundered are basic, yet fits the small format. He’s a bit undescriptive in what he can do, but the mysteriousness works with making him a haunting figure towards the bandit. It’s the simplest tale out of the three that’re presented here, but it’s perfectly fine for what it is. Finally, we have “Black Dog” and its gatekeeping presence to those whose own journeys into the afterlife is about to begin once they exclusively hear its barks. Seeing how this seems to be the case here, I wondered if maybe Brendan Hykes got some inspiration for this tale. It turns out that there’s at least two different cultures that have used dogs in this vein. One is Ancient Egypt with Anubis, since he’s not just the God of Death, but also mummification, embalming, the afterlife, cemeteries, tombs and the Underworld. Another one involves Ancient Mexico where dogs were served as guides for the afterlife. I believe that this is where the biggest influence came, since that serves as the twist ending for this last tale. Because of that, maybe it’s serving as a symbolic means for the inevitable end that awaits us, since even though our main character does see the titular canine, it doesn’t bark at him since it’s not his time to go at those moments. It does give a feeling of dread that’s creeping up on him, since it seems to go after his friends and family for no known reason. When it finally comes for him, it delivers a soothing calm when its true nature gets revealed. In the end, it serves as a polar opposite of its fellow bookend. However, this was a good blend of chills and simplicity, thus making for a nice culmination to this book and serving as the true high note that it can confidently go out on. The different art styles are also detailed for each tale with Flotsam having the most professional looking of them all, while Grave-Robber’s Curse looks just as solid and Black Dog leans more towards amateur, yet presents itself in a confident manner. If you ever find a copy (whether physical or digital), then check it out for yourself since while all other anthology collections usually have multiple writers working on multiple tales, it’s a solid effort from Brendan Hykes in terms of plotting out every story within this issue. This was a humble effort that’s guaranteed to add a little spooky flavor to your Halloween festivities, so creepily check it out without the fear of an ancient curse to hang over you. Anyway, here’s hoping you enjoyed this selection of comics for this particular Season of the Witch. May your souls stir throughout the season and beyond, as we purge ourselves of devious plagues, vulgar viruses and outdated mindsets that truly haunt our world!
Tales Of The Damned (created by Brendan Hykes) is owned by Zero Press.