Written by Scott Allie; Illustrated by Todd Herman
Back in the day, before DVDs or even VHS, comics adaptations of movies were pretty cool because they let you relive the movie over and over again. These days, they’re a pretty lame substitute for the real thing and I ignore them as best I can. Prequels, sequels, and whatnot are a whole other story though. I’m all for comics that add to the worlds we see in the movies. That’s the approach Dark Horse’s The Fog takes.
When John Carpenter’s original movie came out in the ‘70s, I was far too young a fella to go see it. And it stayed off my radar for most of my adult life until someone used the words “ghost pirates” in describing it to me. That got my attention and I sort of kept it in the back of my head until the Rupert Wainwright remake came out a few years ago. I was a big Smallville fan at the time and was curious to see Tom Welling play someone besides Clark Kent, so I started thinking more about The Fog. And since the Dark Horse book came out about that time (and since Mike Mignola did the cover for it), I bought it.
Since then, I still haven’t seen the Wainwright remake, which everyone tells me is horrible. I want to confirm that for myself, but my excitement for it is gone (further decreased by Smallville’s sporadic sucking over the last couple of years). I did finally see Carpenter’s original version though. I didn’t care for it too much. Though it was inspired by our fear of unseen things that might lurk in the fog, it did a lousy job of leaving those things to our imagination, choosing instead to show us hook-handed spooks that were really much less scary than, say, Michael Myers.
In that regard, Allie and Herman’s prequel is much more effective than Carpenter’s movie. Although it’s technically a prequel to the Wainwright film, it’s set far enough in the past that it can serve either version. It tells the story of how the Elizabeth Dane came to be cursed, and as I just said, it’s a far scarier tale than the one Carpenter tells.
That’s mainly because Allie doesn’t try to over-explain things the way Carpenter does. Carpenter fills his story with exposition about the ghosts, their history, and their motives. Allie leaves most of that up to the imagination, giving us just enough to make sense of it, but leaving us wondering about the curse’s true purpose. In Carpenter, we learn that the ghosts have a very specific “To Kill” list and that’s not so scary because we know we’re not on it. Allie’s spirits are much harder to pin down. We don’t know what they’re up to, so for all we know, we could be next. Allie also chooses not to show us what’s in the fog; further heightening the suspense.
All we know is that a bunch of former plantation owners have moved to California because of the Civil War and now have to hire Chinese workers to do the same work they used to get for free from their slaves. We meet these white barons and see the resentment they feel towards their own employees and we don’t feel a bit sorry for them when a curse that’s been following some of the Chinese begins to affect the community. In fact, our allegiance stays with the Chinese and we hope, as they do, that they can possibly escape the curse by passing it along to their employers. That puts us in a bit of a moral quandary, but it’s an interesting one and elevates the book above a simple horror tale.
Herman’s art reminds me of Guy Davis a little in its stylized realism. He’s not afraid of detail, but he uses it sparingly, which is wise in a book where concealing fog plays such an important role. Herman’s depiction of fog is remarkable. Rather than drawing billowing clouds, he just obscures parts of the background and allows Dave Stewart’s indispensable coloring to make up the difference. It’s a gorgeously chilling technique.
Allie and Herman’s story stands on its own as a spooky tale of a curse taking hold of a small, island community. You don’t need to know what comes next in order to enjoy it, but I’d bet money that after reading it, you’ll want to continue the story by watching one or both of the movies. The unfortunate part of that is that in watching them, you’ll be disappointed that they don’t meet your now-raised expectations.