Sunday, November 25, 2007

Children of the Grave

Reviewed by Matt Butcher / Writer for Independent Propaganda

As I sat down to read a new graphic novel, I was a bit pessimistic. I have only liked the genre called horror in cinema, where the director controls every frame. Every moment is plannedfor maximum efficiency. I have never thought that comic panels sufficiently portrayed the suspense necessary for shock and terror. Children of the Grave silences that notion and recounts a horror tale worthy of the genre.

Children of the Grave is a tradepaperback written by Tom Waltz and drawn in black and white by Casey Maloney. The team up is wonderful. It seems that Waltz writes knowing how Maloney is going to develop the panel. Maloney’s shadows accurately set the mood and draw the reader into the lives of three soldiers on a mission in a fictional Middle Eastern country. Black and white is used wonderfully here, as nothing could better fit the story or Maloney’s art.

The three soldiers come across a site of a mass grave. The only trouble is that thegraves have opened and the contents removed. The contents were the product of a terrorist madman out for genocide: the children of his enemies have been slaughtered. The soldiers radio for new orders and receive the suicide mission of assassinating the madman fanatic.

The situation gets creepier when the lieutenant in charge sees visions of children. Help us find the way, Michael, the little girl says. These ghost images seem to cry out for justice. The madman himself has dreams of children murdering him horribly.

The best part of this story is that the horror does not take over the characters. The characters seem to be a lot more real than most horror stories I have ever read or seen. The three soldiers are wonderfully developed, with motives and background, with desires and inner demons. Even our bad guy has a back story that seems to make us understand a bit more about his motives. The horror is simply the catalyst that moves these characters along towards their inevitable collision with their own destinies.

The horror comes in when these images present themselves at new unforeseen turns. The clues they leave are sufficient enough to leave the reader pulling along with every page. Some of the horror is man made, as we graphically watch the dreadfulness of war and some of the atrocities that man can place upon man.

I must say that once I reached the final chapter, I was a bit wary as to where the ending was going. An element was introduced that I was worried would negatively impact the overall structure. However, its use in all situations available actually worked and tied itself in to all of the characters. This book wraps itself together well, never forgetting the little elements that have brought the reader to the end. The reader should be satisfied and not left hanging.

Amazingly, this is, according to the end notes in the TPB, a first project for this team of Waltz and Maloney who work so well together. Children of the Gravewas apparently a series first for Shooting Star Comics and then this trade paperback from IDW Publishing became available. Waltz says on the thank you page that all he really wants is this book to make it part of your collection. In the end, that satisfaction and gratitude that he portrays is simply his best reward. Our reward is a well-crafted book that we can show off to friends and feel good about having, especially when this becomes a movie!

(Originally posted at on June 14, 2006.)

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