Thee Comic Column #60 – Joe Hill’s Wraith: Welcome to Christmasland

image courtesy of comicbookrealm.com

Welcome to Christmasland indeed my friends! I don’t know how many of you have read Joe Hill‘s wonderful novel NOS4A2 (which I reviewed earlier in the year here) but if you haven’t and you’re a fan of horror, the supernatural or just gritty, fantastically-tinted adventure it will please your palette to no end. It’s the kind of book that sets up people, places and things that beg to be expanded upon, and now it has!

NOS4A2 brilliantly introduces us to Christmasland, a kind of Holiday-themed amusement park that exists somewhere next to the world we know, in what Hill refers to as the ‘Inscape’. In the novel we meet Victoria McQueen, a young girl who discovers that when she rides her bike across a certain bridge in the woods near her home she can go wherever she needs to in order to find what she is looking for. If that’s not enough to freak young Vic out she finds out that the bridge in question isn’t even really there anymore. This serves to introduce us to a world where some people possess gifts that allow them to do wonderfully magical things that they should not be able to do. There’s Maggie (my favorite) who reads prophetic messages via her beloved Scrabble tiles and then there’s Charlie Manx. Charles Talent Manx the III to be exact, who abducts children in his 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith and takes them outside the constraints of reality to Christmasland, where they become something nefariously other than human. NOS4A2 is largely Vic’s story, though arguably Manx goes beyond being simply the villain of the piece. By novel’s end we are left wanting more of this brilliantly-developed character and me thinks Joe Hill inherently understood this as he now delivers just that in this new IDW mini series with art by Charles Paul Williams III and colors by Jay Fotos.

Issue one of Wraith really delivers on Manx’s backstory – we get to see the childhood that shaped the man NoS4A2 made us fear. When we meet him in the book Manx is evil and unnaturally old, but that was not always the case. In Wraith, Hill does a great job showing us how Manx is not only the product of the less-than-stellar environment of his formative years but also the end result of how the stresses and struggles of marriage can turn people inside out with resentment if they go into it for the wrong reasons or with unrealistic expectations. Our villain’s motivations go beyond three-dimensional here; there’s elements of psychology at work in Charlie Manx that are so well thought out as to be borderline breathtaking. For starters we see how a boy’s relationship with his mother inevitably effects his future relationships with women. This plays a part in the novel as well, as older Manx aligns himself with a real mommy-complex psychopath for a henchman in Bing Partridge and their respective areas of arrested development serve to create a kind of evil harmonic that really pushes the book to a new level of horror. However despite these similarities, Manx’s relationship with his own mother is quite different than Bing’s. Manx’s is a slower, harsher burn. Charlie comes full circle with his twisted take on women when his father-in-law loses his wealth in the stock market crash and promptly dies thereafter. Left to fend for his wife and daughters a slow, twisted resentment begins to bubble up into the Manx’s lives, until the panels of the book become almost claustrophobic in their ability to convey the strangling tendrils of responsibility deflection and out-and-out hate that result when people simply refuse to accept responsibility for their lives and – essentially – grow up. Fittingly the issue’s wrap around is Manx driving a stolen little girl to Christmasland where she ‘never has to grow up’. This is what I see the entirety of the NOs4A2 epic as essentially being about, the idea that some people will go to such lengths to hold onto their childhood that they will age themselves unnaturally with pain and hatred and violence. Parents-hating, mommy-raping Bing wants to be a kid forever, and that’s what allows Manx to get his hooks in him in from the get-go. It’s how Manx himself is able to hook all his victims and how he finds his road to the Inscape and Christmasland to begin with – because none of them want to grow up, no matter the cost. It’s also how he loses Vic in the novel, as she wants more than anything to escape her childhood as soon as possible.

image courtesy of alphacomics.ca

Joe Hill has proven himself to have one of the most fertile and wonderfully disturbing imaginations to arrive in print in years, and what’s more he’s proven his ability to work in and excel at both the medium of prose and comics, something more and more writers attempt but not everyone accomplishes. With a handful of exceptional novels already endearing him to an ever-expanding audience prior to NOS4A2, and the high concept, generationally epic Locke and Key comic series, Hill has very earnestly branded himself into the pop culture illuminati without sacrificing the teeth and tone that make him retain the kind of fervor that defines underground art as something so personally affecting to so many.

Joe Hill: I can’t f#%kin wait to see what you have in store for us next sir!!!

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Can’t find a comic shop? You can always use old reliable Comic Shop Locator at 1-800-COMIC-BOOK. Or you can take some of my recommendations. If you live in the greater Chicagoland area I recommend any of the wonderful four locations of Amazing Fantasy Books. In Los Angeles it’s The Comic Bug. Las Vegas it’s Alternate Reality Comics. San Francisco? Try the Isotope Comic Lounge and if you happen to venture a little further North I’d say you have to visit The Escapist Comic Book Store in Berkley (with the wonderful Dark Carnival Books next door and owned by the same folks). Read on!!!

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

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