So who’s a fan of gunslingers, covered wagons and cowboy hats? I have to admit, despite the name, I wasn’t expecting Silent Hill: Past Life to be set in 1867–probably because none of the other Silent Hill comics were set in the past. However, writer Tom Waltz keeps up the tradition of a chilling tale where the main character has to overcome the sins of his past.
As with the six other Silent Hill series, there are always one or two people who, for whatever reason, go to the town of Silent Hill. During their stay, the guilt from their past actions forms into monsters that they’re forced to flee from. One thing I love about these series is that just because the story is about the main character it doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll make it out of the small town alive, which can create some serious suspense upon reaching the end the story– making it so captivating you’ll have difficulties tearing your eyes from the page.
This particular story centers on Jebediah “Hellrider” Foster and his pregnant wife, Esther Monroe. Esther’s uncle had recently passed, and his house in Silent Hill was given to his next of kin. Naturally, the couple moved to their new home to hopefully start a new life.
They started a new life, alright. While traveling, they encounter an African American postman named Howard Blackwood (who’s rumored to have connections to a character in the Silent Hill 8 game, “Downpour”). Howard ended up being one of my favorite characters in the story–he always has a knack for showing up at the right time to give helpful advice, and nothing that happens seems to ever surprise him. I can’t go into too much detail about the other characters without giving a lot away, but there’s a one-eyed sheriff, a bartender and his wife, and an older Native American woman who lost her daughter many years ago. As is always the case in the Silent Hill universe, seemingly random characters and events always end up threading together into an intricate tapestry filled with unspoken horrors.
The artwork done by Menton Mathews III was particularly spectacular. When I was doing my first read through and trying to just focus on the storyline, I couldn’t help but stop several times to admire some of the drawings. There appears to be almost every kind of medium in this book–pen, pencil, watercolor, ink, and acrylics–but while that mixed-media approach seems like it would result in an inconsistency that would drive a reader crazy, it’s a perfect combination. There’s so much going on in every page, you can’t just glance at it and move on.
The art seems to be drawn in layers. There’s the main background, which is usually very simplistic and colorful, and there’s script writing (small and blurred enough that it’s not meant to be read, just there for effect) or diagram drawings of compasses, symbols or even a bulls eye. Everything is tied into the storyline, so the diagram would be different depending on what’s happening. On top of all that are the eerily horrifying drawings of the characters.
Clearly a lot of work went into this series. The one thing that bothered me, though, was the style of the conversations. Some of the back-and-forth banter is presented as a series of small, almost thumbnail boxes–usually with one character per box. However, many of the boxes appeared to have been exact replicas of other boxes. The facial expressions wouldn’t change, nor the angle or even the shading. It was basically a copy and paste method that somewhat drew me away from the art and the storyline. It just looked lazy.
Still, seeing as how these repeated panels only happened a few times in the entire book, it hardly overshadows the sheer horrifying beauty of the artwork as a whole. One picture that stood out the most for me was of Jebediah standing, drinking whiskey, and unaware that there’s a hovering pregnant ghost behind him–eyes boring into his back. The ghost was drawn in black with her white skeleton showing through, and you can see the skeleton of the fetus in her belly as well. The overall effect was chilling, and it suited the story perfectly.
I could go on for hours praising this story, but it’s not the same as actually reading it for yourself. I highly recommend any horror lover to read this book. While Past Life is a little different than the other Silent Hill series and can be read as a stand-alone, it’s a magnificent read nonetheless. Since he’s written almost all the other comics, Tom Waltz has Silent Hill down perfectly, so you’re guaranteed a bone-chilling, captivating read.