(w) David Avallone (a) Fran Strukan (c) Maxim Simic
Fans of cult horror movies – and just plain bad ones – have one way or another crossed paths with the incomparable Elvira. First finding fame as the host of the late-night Elvira’s Movie Macabre, the combination of Morticia Addams’ style with a California valley-girl disposition made for a hit cult character as portrayed by Cassandra Peterson. Of all the television hosts from the 1980s, she’s the one most deserving of a comicbook adaptation. The Shape of Elvira #1 brings the character to the page in story befitting the character’s heritage, good and bad.
Since acquiring the license, Dynamite Entertainment has produced a solid ongoing series in the vein of the character’s feature film, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark. But now the publisher is looking to utilize the property in a manner like Marvel’s Deadpool or DC’s Harley Quinn. It makes sense, given the self-aware, fourth-wall-breaking nature of Elvira’s character. And while those other two may have run their schtick into the ground, it’s difficult to get too upset in this case because that is what she’s all about. It also helps that writer David Avallone doesn’t go overboard with the meta references. He doesn’t inundate the reader with page after page of jokes, showing great restraint in letting sequences play themselves out. Avallone’s script picks up the slack. It is full of the snark and pop-culture references readers should expect of an Elvira comic. Much of the dialogue is quick-witted; it’s snappy enough to make readers forget the rather pedestrian plot.
The plot itself is a sendup to gothic horror, with thinly veiled satire of the movie industry threaded throughout. Of course, the series’ title is a reference to the Oscar-winning The Shape of Water, which plays an unsurprising role in this first issue’s cliffhanger. All the hallmarks of haunted house stories can be found here. There’s a reclusive owner, oddly loyal servants, and secret passages. Fran Strukan’s artwork really excels at establishing scenery and making most of this issue’s setting look creepy. Appropriately, the opening that takes place in the office of a talent agent looks bland in the best way possible.
Where the scenic artwork falters is in Maxim Simic’s coloring. Everything is too bright for Elvira. The gothic architecture and underground catacombs would greatly benefit from a darker color palette, which is lacking except for in one image, when Elvira arrives at the aforementioned haunted house. It is a great establishing shot that establishes a spooky vibe, only to be undone with the turn of a page. Once inside the building, the color palette takes on a simplicity that isn’t too dissimilar from what could be done inside MS Paint.
Strukan does a decent job with his characters. Though they aren’t too expressive (more on that in a bit), they are believable characters inhabiting this world. Strukan’s portrayal of Elvira herself is a bit uneven. Though he manages to capture the shapeliness of actress Cassandra Peterson, her bombastic personality seems to be left behind. This is a character that thrives on a big personality to really work, and the lack of expression Strukan’s characters is to the issue’s overall detriment.
The Shape of Elvira #1 is a middling comic, thanks to an inconsistent tone. The book ultimately cannot decide what it wants to be. Is it a send-up to haunted house movies? Is it a satire? Is it a comedy title, or is it horror? Could it be both, or possibly neither? There are just too many questions circling the issue’s tone, let alone the narrative for casual readers to be pulled in. Hardcore Elvira fans will certainly find enjoyment here, but the rest are better off elsewhere.