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Cryptics #1

Posted: Monday, August 7, 2006
By: Robert Murray



Writer: Steve Niles
Artist: Benjamin Roman

Publisher: Image Comics


Going into this issue I had great expectations, since Cryptics #1 is written by one of my favorite writers, Steve Niles. Freaks of the Heartland, 30 Days of Night, and Criminal Macabre are three of the best horror comics Iíve ever read, and Iím anxiously anticipating what heíll do with the Creeper. Then thereís Benjamin Roman, whoís work I have never seen before. In fact, Iíve never even seen anything about his artwork on the internet, so I didnít know what to expect. Well, after reading the first issue of Cryptics, I realize that Roman is a talent worth seeking out, which was an unexpected pleasure. Also unexpected was how little I was entertained and amused by this collection of short vignettes. I figured horror comedy was something that came naturally to Niles, but I guess that comedy has to be tempered with a dark tone for ideal hilarity. What I read was Muppet Babies for the Universal monsters set, and even this description sounds more charming than it actually was. If you want to get down to the nitty gritty, what really ticked me off was that I spent $3.50 for what was a slight, watered down, and ultimately under-amusing comic book.

Why doesnít this issue work for me? Let me count the ways...

First off, Niles has constructed a Frankensteinís Monster of the Munsters and the Addams Family, with a little Tim Burton imagery for good measure. What does this mean for you, the comic buying public? Well, it means that a lot of these vignettes are very familiar, to the point that it affects the impact of the comedy. Granted, I know that Niles is trying to put together a quirky set of characters rather than a laugh-out-loud extravaganza. But, the quirkiness doesnít work as well as it should, and Niles misses some opportunities to draw us into this world. Case in point is Wolfy and his parents, who are the Wolfman and the Bride of Frankenstein. See, right there is an idea with some comedy possibilities! Add to this the fact that all three are playing in an Ozzie and Harriet morning routine, complete with the well-dressed father and his paper, and this should be a funny short. But, instead of making some witty insights, Niles goes with the standard approach, as the Bride gives the two Wolf-creatures Milk-Bones for breakfast. This kind of gag is maybe worth a slight curl of the upper lip, but its not the kind of comedy you would expect from this kind of package. The sad thing is that this book is filled with instances like this. From a water gun fight without holy water (Come on, thereís a vampire kid) to an unamusing scene with the fish-boy in his pool playing with dolls (I wouldíve figured a fish family would have a nicer pool than this inflatable job), this is a hit-and-miss affair with a heck of a lot more misses. For my money, the only tale with appeal is "The Test," where Hyde is sabotaged into his monstrous self prior to a school exam. But, this tale isnít enough to keep this collection afloat. In conjunction with the scant amount of time it took to read this, this is a comic book that is very light for the $3.50 cover price.

One element that bumps up the quality of this comic is the great artwork by Benjamin Roman, who has a style that riffs a little on what guys like Jhonen Vasquez and Roman Dirge have started. His lines are clean, his characters are wonderfully distorted, the action moves along fairly smoothly, and the hilarious facial expressions are priceless. The panels that he illustrates display his cartoonistís sensibilities rather than sequential art priorities, which might explain why each panel is so full of detail. Plus, his style doesnít show any realism, making this a unique looking comic that youíre sure to enjoy leafing through. In fact, the panel showing Wolfy as a big blue-eyed baby was one of my favorite moments, as the disguise looked like something from John Kís nightmares (like a younger version of George Liquor). But, the final word on Cryptics #1 has to be that it is slight quirky fun that youíll swear youíve seen somewhere before, all for a pricey $3.50. Image, time for a price break...



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