According to sales numbers and demand for back issues, this could very well be The Next Big Thing in comics. With orders rising on each issue in a way that we haven’t seen since the earlier days of “The Walking Dead,” this new series from writer James Tynion IV and artist Werther Dell’Edera has clearly struck a chord with the comics readership. I’ve found the writer’s superhero work for DC to be as uneven as it is conventional, though I have liked what I’ve read of his earlier creator-owned title “The Woods.” So I was expecting to be in for a good time when I started reading this first volume. What I got was something that read like horror by the numbers.
“Something is Killing the Children” at least wastes no time in living up to its title. It starts off with some boys playing truth or dare at a sleepover and then quickly segues to an interrogation in a police station. Three of the boys from the sleepover are dead, and James, the only one still alive, is claiming a monster did it. While this doesn’t make life in his small hometown any easier for him, help is on the way in the form of Erica. Erica Slaughter. She kills monsters and she’s here to kill this one too.
If you’re wondering what the big hook for “Killing” is, that’s it. No. Really. There’s a monster in the town and Erica is going to kill it. Is she going to run into trouble with the police? Will she cause suspicion amongst the townspeople? Is the monster she finds going to be much more trouble than she initially thought? Normally I’d tell you to give yourself a gold star if you answered “Yes” to all of these questions. Except this time I think that the answers here were a bit too obvious.
In fact, I kept waiting for this volume to spring its big surprise on me right up until I got to the last page. I figured with all of the buzz surrounding it that there had to be SOMETHING different about this story that was causing it to gather so much interest. “Killing” doesn’t even feel like other volume-length-first-issues I’ve read because the big reveal at the end isn’t all that surprising. Really, there’s nothing in this first volume that you haven’t seen before in other horror-based media.
Still, it would be unfair of me to say that this first volume wasn’t well-crafted. Tynion does a good job of realizing the interconnectedness of small town life and how the “missing children” crisis has everyone out of sorts. He also does a good job establishing the motivations of James, the police chief, and Tommy, a waiter whose sister went missing and who has a bad run-in with Erica. Everyone has good reasons for what they do in this story. It’s just that you can easily guess what they’re going to do and how it’ll turn out.
Even Erica who carries most of this volume on her shoulders. She’s the world-weary monster hunter, resentful of her handlers, but duty-bound to kill these monsters because no one else really can. The no-nonsense vibe she has is appealing, as is the fact that she doesn’t really complain about her lot in life. When she does, it’s almost always because she feels that her bosses and talking-stuffed-octopus support have failed her in some way. Again, Erica is a familiar character type but she still manages to acquit herself well here.
The most distinct thing about her, however, is the monster teeth bandanna she occasionally wears over her face when, combined with her eyes, gives her a striking appearance. That’s mainly down to Dell’Edera, whose art is the best thing about this volume. He’s got a sketchy, slightly exaggerated style that manages to communicate the everyday, only with something off about it. It’s a style that perfectly communicates the drudgery of everyday life, and a bloody monster attack in someone’s home. To the extent that this first volume manages anything approaching creepiness, let alone genuine horror, it’s down to the artist’s work.
Props to Dell’Edera for managing that, but good art only takes this volume so far. It doesn’t really make up for how predictable and conventional the main narrative is. Tynion does drop some hints about a wider mythology for the series, and I’m disappointed that he plays it close to the vest here. Knowing more about “Killing’s” world might have given me a real reason to check out vol. 2 beyond, “Maybe I’ll find out what the hype is about in the next volume.” I’m curious enough to give it that much of a chance, but this isn’t something I’d recommend to people looking to get in on The Next Big Thing.