Al Swearengen: “Messages from invisible sources, or what some people think of as progress.”
Dan Dority: “Ain’t the heathens used smoke signals all through recorded history?”
Al: “How’s that a fuckin’ recommendation?
Dan: “Well, it seems like to me, you knows, letters posted one person to another is just a slower version of the same idea.”
Al: “When’s the last time you got a fucking letter from a stranger?”
Dan: “Bad news about Pa.”
Al: “Bad news! Or tries against our interests is our sole communications from strangers, so by all means, let’s plant poles across the country, festoon the cocksucker with wires to hurt the sorry word and blinker our judgments of motive, huh?”
Dan: “You’ve given it more thought than me.”
—David Milch, Deadwood
For the entirety of human history, light has meant so much. A morning’s positive sunshine often reminds us that there’s a brand new day on the horizon, a chance to start over again and to set right whatever plagues us. Nightlights have kept so many children feeling safe despite their night terrors and fears of the dark. And when someone we love is dying and there is no stopping it, we often tell them to head into the light, for they will feel its warmth and embrace.
Tobe Hooper’s seminal 1982 horror classic Poltergeist is more or less the fictional modern origin of so many contemporary horrors, from the concept of children’s lives being destroyed by television to dishonoring the lives of those who came before us. It is these concerns, nearly thirty years later, that writer Nathan Edmondson and artist Brett Weldele tap into with their new Image Comics mini-series The Light.
Television is still around, but we now also have the Internet, iPods, Xboxes and Blu-Ray players. Instead of disrupting the graves of those long buried, we oftentimes disgrace the corpses of the only recently deceased (as the family of Ted Kennedy can no doubt attest) and turn into corpses those we don’t understand. In addition to tainted meat and E. coli, we have struggled with anthrax scares, the West Nile Virus, Avian Flu and, of course, HIV/AIDS.
Out of all the famous lines of dialogue in Poltergeist, the most quoted is ‘Carol Anne, listen to me. Do not go into the light. Stop where you are. Turn away from it. Don’t even look at it’.
Taking this one line of dialogue and the central sociopolitical conceits of Hooper’s film and advancing them some 28 years, Edmondson and Weldele have created a fascinating meditation on the warp speed with which we now exchange and ingest information. Like the creators of both the Japanese and American versions of The Ring, Chuck Palahniuk’s Lullaby and the recent cult favorite The Signal, the creators of The Light have seen their work come to full fruition during an especially fascinating moment in technological history.
With recent debates all made larger because of the Internet (itself the subject of many debates), Edmondson and Weldele couldn’t have picked a better time to tell their tale…or just maybe, the time picked them.
In a story that feels like it could have come from the original Twilight Zone. Recently-fired deadbeat dad Coyle has to rise to the occasion to save his daughter’s life when their small town is assaulted by electric light. Now infecting and killing anyone who dares gaze into them, streetlights, bathroom lights, television become a terror of the age. The only thing that seems to not cause infection is the light from Coyle’s car.
In horror—and especially filmed horror, which is very clearly the source of so much of The Light’s inspiration—that which is alien to us is oftentimes only defeated by that which we place our faith in. Streetlights may be the property of the city, but you have to be able to place your trust in your own possessions or you will probably wind up dead.
The aura of mystery, disbelief and terror that permeates Edmondson’s deft plotting is only enhanced by Weldele’s artwork. Weldele’s dark, menacing and brooding atmosphere sucks the reader in and never lets go. There is a genuine sense of foreboding and hopelessness to the characters’ shared journey. This makes each issue’s opening shot of a light source all the more unsettling and deviously clever. The relentless threat of the light, no longer a thing of comfort, now coupled with Coyle’s desperation to save his daughter from his own mother’s fate, leads readers to wonder whether or not the cause of the outbreak will in fact be revealed over the course of the story. The two narrative strands seem to be in such stark opposition it could turn out either way.
No matter what happens, the journey, as always, is the crux of the story. Usually, there is a certain joy in the journey. Not so here, where the journey is a breathless race to salvation that probably does not exist, an Invasion of the Body Snatchers for the Twitter age.
Now, as quick as you can, turn off your computer, shut down all power sources, and don’t go into the light. But if you insist on leaving your electronics on, do go into The Light. It’s a journey you won’t regret taking.