Larime Taylor’s A Voice In The Dark is an incredibly smart examination of a dark part of American Culture. This issue follows Zoey to two additional homicides after going “undercover” at a sorority costume party.
Taylor pulls many narrative tricks in this issue, but the first is that he flips the sequence structurally so that we initially get to see the psychological fallout of the killings before they’re actually committed. It’s a clever move that allows us to ask the question of whether or not the act was worth it, once we are confronted with the damage they cause. Zoey says that she “spent her entire life getting good grades to go to an elite school,” but is now on the verge of throwing it all away. It’s not just getting caught she’s referring to, but the lasting mental stress.
What usually happens when we lie or do something we know goes against our nature (not to mention kill coeds!) is that we live the remainder of our life in constant fear of discovery, or the fear of being called out on an action we know we can’t reasonably defend. This is the lasting impact. Taylor also showcases the rush, the kick of adrenaline that soldiers who do multiple tours often describe. When you live on the edge, when you’re so used to having your life on the line every second, faced with a continual threat, that any state which is anything less than that becomes boring, and you start to crave it. It’s the only thing that makes sense. This is the addiction.
The greatest trick that Taylor pulls is making us empathize with a protagonist who is a killer. It’s hard to justify Zoey’s actions logically, but Taylor explains her compulsion emotionally. Zoey is introspective about her crimes, but it causes us to introspect as well. Could we commit these crimes? Would we commit these crimes? Under what conditions, what would it take?
Psychologists will tell you that people are able to do many things that would ordinarily be wildly out of character, provided the right psychological stressors are present as a catalyst (in Zoey’s case, there’s a quick painful scene where a recently repressed attempted rape comes up). As Taylor points out via Zoey’s internal monologue (which the issue is necessarily reliant on, if I have one slight criticism), getting caught is all about pattern recognition, it’s the “serial” part of being a serial killer.
Zoey has an awareness of her actions, she’s delivering an effective crime tutorial, building cover stories, and mastering the art of the alibi. It’s another of Taylor’s crafty storytelling “tricks.” Zoey has an awareness of her actions, she is skilled at a thing which requires “practice and preparation” as she puts it.
This lets her get away with her crimes (which we find ourselves unwittingly rooting for), but it also means she can’t plead an insanity defense because of some dissociative episode. She’s fully aware of her actions (which we should NOT be rooting for), another testament to the contradictory complexity of Taylor’s creation.
Larime Taylor’s lines (which are rendered completely with his mouth) are soft and fluid and voluptuous, a style which I think emphasizes the emotional journey we’re on with the main character. And just when you think you’ve settled into an appreciation of this amiable art style, they go and drop you into the middle of a grisly murder scene where a college girl has crafted sharpened tent pole stakes as her weapons of choice.
It’s frankly much more chilling than seeing someone like Psylocke using a psychic knife, or Elektra using a trademark sai, because the suspension of disbelief isn’t as strong in this non-superhero story. There’s no genre distance between us and this world.
Zoey is careful, but there’s a lingering panel beat of a blood stain she may have forgotten to remove traces of. There’s nothing but this silent beat calling your attention to this item. In fact, the dialogue actually pulls you away from it as Zoey describes how careful she is, a testament to the fact that Taylor “gets” the medium. He gets that words and pictures don’t have to be redundant, that they’re often at their most interesting when they’re doing different things, even contradictory things. This is the “tertiary information delivery” that I often talk about occurring when you pair words with pictures in comics.
There’s a fun reveal at the end suggesting, without spoiling much, that Zoey’s “work” isn’t as solitary as she’d like to imagine, potentially linking events to a previous issue. There’s also some faux news articles in the back serving as some quick backmatter that repeatedly refer to the killer as “him,” demonstrating the common trend of assuming serial killers are male 99% of the time. It’s another in a long line of examples that Taylor has done the research and is lacing the book with deceptively simple nods to the way these events play out in real life.
I don’t think people realize what an important book A Voice In The Dark has grown to become in the space of just seven issues. It plays with taboos, from relatively tame consensual bondage kink, to the mix of violence and sexuality, to the depiction of female leads in fiction, to heteronormative stereotypes about the female figure and beauty, to just what the hell is going on in the minds of our Gen Y Millennials these days.
These are critical social issues bubbling just below the surface of what’s masquerading as a really good seedy crime book.