Will Dark Horse Follow in the Devil’s Footprints?
It’s been a year since Dark Horse decided to devote a line strictly to the horror genre and gave everyone a taste of what was to come with The Dark Horse Book of Hauntings, a collection of short works by a variety of writers and artists. Unfortunately, the “firstborn” of that line doesn’t give me much hope for the future. Looking at the cover of The Devil’s Footprints, two major elements come into play. The dominant one centers on the image of the story’s main character, Brandon Waite, who is clinging to his beloved Sarah. In the background are Brandon’s demons in the form of a superimposed yellow and crimson-lined flame and a large, menacing face lingering. Your assumptions wouldn’t be too far off if you claimed that The Devil’s Footprints was about love and demons—in the literal and allegorical sense.
It’s the summer of 1969 and Brandon Waite is a young man living in “the small town of Ipswich, Massachusetts (where) a terrible debt (has) come due.” William Waite, the family patriarch, practiced black magic and apparently pissed off a few people in various realms before his death. His sons would love to forget about him and just go about their normal lives, but the townspeople won’t have it and neither will their father or their father’s demon. So it’s up to Brandon to protect his loved ones and to put an end to the trouble his father has caused once and for all.
It’s not exactly an original concept, but most comics (like movies, or any art form, for that matter) aren’t entirely original, it’s what’s done differently with the concept that’s important. H.P. Lovecraft enthusiast Scott Allie, who also works on Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Star Wars, put a lot of effort into this horror tale, even providing noted documentation to give the story some serious bone. The Devil’s Footprints is ambitious, but the meat of the concept—the writing—is weak and the plot, therefore, just reeks of staleness. Paul Lee and Brian Horton’s artwork, on the other hand, is vibrant and refreshing, which is in great part due to colorist Dave Stewart, the recipient of this year’s Eisner Award for Best Coloring.
As for the writing, the pace is slow, the transitions abrupt, and the magical mumbo jumbo that makes up a decent part of the dialogue is jarringly annoying, and actually would have worked much better had it been in plain old English. Though Brandon is ridiculed and branded as an outcast in his own hometown and often brutalized because of his father’s “legacy”, I found it difficult to care about him or his situation. And not enough happened between Brandon and Sarah for me to accept the depth of their relationship or to even accept or comprehend the story’s abrupt finale to their relationship. The final showdown in which Brandon literally confronts his demons is anticlimactic and rather disappointing.
The time frame is set up in a short introductory paragraph, but there were no reminders throughout the story that it was taking place during the “early summer of 1969”, so it could’ve easily been the eighties, the nineties, or present times. Redeemingly though, the dialogue was true-to life at times, but The Devil’s Footprints probably would’ve been better had a little more suspense been added and there weren’t so many trite attempts to make it all seem so mystical and mysterious.
At the end of the actual story are extras like “Demonology”, which provides a few pieces of documentation that Allie apparently based the story on and a few preliminary character sketches are included as well. There are also two shorter works that were used as just warm-ups for what actually went to press, which gave some insight into Brandon’s relationship both with his father and his childhood love Sarah. These little extras helped, and if those two shorter works that were used as warm-ups had actually been incorporated into the full story perhaps in the forms of flashbacks, The Devil’s Footprints would have been much stronger.
The only thing that made this endeavor worthwhile was the fantastic art from Lee and Horton and Stewart’s coloring. Each page of The Devil’s Footprints is a visual pleasure because of the layout, the line drawings, and the colors. Everything is vivid and nothing looks flat. The use of even grays, deep purples, and well-mixed pastels give the simple drawings vitality and gives each scene a great boost. I only wish the writing had been more up to par, then the entire thing would have been a success.
But alas, The Devil’s Footprints is another example of great artists teaming up with a not so great writer. I’m not condemning Scott Allie or marking him as a terrible writer, especially since I’ve never read any of his other works. All I’m saying is that this particular body of work was ambitious in nature, but dull in quality. Perhaps the second volume of The Devil’s Footprints will provide what this one did not—a reason to give a damn.