Jodie, the red-eyed pig that haunted the Lutz family in Jay Anson’s “non-fiction” The Amityville Horror, haunted me after I read the book as a child. Jodie’s red porcine eyes would stare at me through my bedroom window; his hot breath would fog the panes. In the morning I would search for his prints on the ground outside my room.
Uncle Ponto, the familiar spirit that Malachi Martin wrote about in his troubling “true to life” best-seller Hostage to the Devil, scared me when I first read about him a few years back. I still find myself checking for him in my rearview mirror when I am driving alone along dark and empty stretches of highway late, late at night. I don’t know what I would do if I saw his hodge-podge face, his pink eyes meeting my own in the mirrored glass.
These demons are scary because they are the wholly other, so clearly not human, mysterium tremendum.
Jack Kirby’s Etrigan the Demon was never very scary. He was too human, too relatable, too rooted, not in darkness, but in Arthurian legends. Etrigan wasn’t really scary until Alan Moore penned his horrifying encounters with Swamp Thing and pushed him beyond his role as a mystical superhero, sort of a cross between Doctor Strange and the Incredible Hulk, into something darker and stranger. But Kirby could write scary. When Etrigan met Kamara, the Monkey King who feeds on the very fear that he inspires — that was scary. (Though not as scary as when they met again, under Moore’s direction, in the pages of ” Swamp Thing.) And when Etrigan met Klarion, the Witch Boy, that was scary too.
Kirby’s Klarion was scary for the same reason that Jodie and Uncle Ponto are scary, because he was so unidentifiable, so outside the normal world of human experience. He was an imp, a deadly, dangerous imp, from some unknown and mysterious world. His reasons were his own, his motivations inexplicable. Kirby’s Klarion was part Mr. Mxyzptlk, part the devil himself. He may have looked like a boy, but his appearance was clearly misleading. He was more witch than boy, more demon than human.
It is too bad that Ann Nocenti’s Klarion is nothing of the sort, too bad that his motivations seem so obvious, that he seems so ordinary, so human.
I was a little surprised when I saw that DC was introducing this little-known character into the New 52. Klarion was always one of my favorites among Kirby’s DC creations. This was going to be good. And it would be out in time for Halloween. How fitting, I thought, for the little Witch Boy’s debut.
But, at least in this first issue, there is nothing too scary here.
Ann Nocenti’s Klarion is a runaway, a drop-out, who balked at the instruction given to students in his witchy-world and went off in search of new adventures and new friends. He finds them both in New York City where a school for young witches, known as the Moody Museum, seems locked in some sort of rivalry with the Necropolitan Club. The good guys at the museum are practitioners of kind magic and believers in the power of karma. The bad guys at the Necropolitan Club are all about technology. It is, I suppose, meant to be a battle between the natural way and the way of civilization, between the old way and the new, between kindness and manipulation, between karma’s benign guidance and humanity’s technological control.
Klarion hitches a ride with a stranger who turns out be Beelzebub. (The Lord of the Flies. Now that could be scary!) He breaks up a schoolyard fight and makes a new friend. He gets a new job and immediately makes a mistake that lands him in trouble. He befriends a girl and unwittingly finds himself in the middle of a love triangle. It’s all rather ordinary, all rather predictable.
Artist Trevor McCarthy does an admirable job through all of this. The double-paged spreads featuring Beelzebub and his black Ford Mustang are wild. His panels and layouts are evocative and spooky. But there isn’t much story to hang it all on. Conflicts appear out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly. The story is disjointed; Klarion and reader move from scene to scene without much direction and without any discernible narrative flow. The dialogue is clunky; Nocenti may be trying too hard to write like regular teenagers talk. “Sous-chef needed. Room and board.” Klarion says when considering a job at the Museum. “Hey, I can slice and dice with the best of them.” If this was meant to sound menacing, it doesn’t.
Just keep moving, folks. There is nothing to see here, especially nothing scary. This Klarion, this Witch Boy, is a lot more boy than witch.
And now it’s already the second week of October and I have hardly been scared at all. No Jodie at my window. No Uncle Ponto in the back seat of my car.
The Monkey King on my back must be getting mighty hungry.