The Nightbreed Retrospective: Part 1: Nightbreed Issue 1

Clive Barker’s Nightbreed Issue 1: ….Where the Monsters Go

Cover Price:  $1.95

Written by: Alan Grant and John Wagner

Artist: Jim Baikie

Letters by: Michael Heisler

Editor: Gregory Wright

Consulting Editor: Daniel Chichester

Executive Editor, Epic Comics: Carl Potts

Adapted from the screenplay by Clive Barker.

The year is 1990, and Epic Comics, a creator owned imprint of Marvel Comics is the home of what starts out as a four issue adaptation of the Clive Barker box office flop, Nightbreed, but eventually morphs into a twenty-five issue series, along with a two-part crossover title with the Hellraiser comics also being produced by Epic entitled Hellraiser vs. Nightbreed: Jihad.

Issue one introduces us to Aaron Boone, a man who only a year prior to our stories beginning was on the verge of suicide, but now has turned his life around, finding love with a woman named Lori and nearing the end of his sessions with his psychologist Dr. Philip Decker, but all is not as it seems, as Decker urges Boone to turn himself into the police, fearing that Boone’s nightmares may in fact be buried memories of the violent murders taking place in the area.

Decker gives Boone a bottle of lithium (really LSD) and warns that if Boone doesn’t speak to the police on his own, he’ll be forced to reveal his own findings.  Distraught and suffering from a bad LSD trip, Boone breaks down and attempts to kill himself by jumping in front of a truck, but awakens to find himself in a hospital where he meets a seeming madman by the name of Narcisse, another soul who knows of Midian, a place where, in Narcisse words “The Monsters go”.

When Decker arrives at the hospital with the police, Boone escapes and makes his way to Midian where he is attacked by Peloquin, one of the Nightbreed. Bleeding and running for his life, Boone makes his way out of the necropolis of Midian and into a barrage of police bullets.

The nightmare of the murder with the button eyed mask is over….or is it?

Nightbreed #1 is a treat, not only for comic’s fans, but for fans of Barker’s Nightbreed film as well, as this first issue expands on several elements that were missing in the film, namely giving us a bit more background on Lori and Boone, as well as the visual expansion of Midian, instead of just being a massive graveyard, it is more of a ghost town with a massive grave yard as it was in the original novella.   The first noticeable difference between the film and the comic adaptation is the main characters themselves,  with Boone, Decker and Lori all looking nothing like the actors who played them in the film, and this actually works to the books advantage, as it frees up the artist to flex his creative muscle, not only on the human characters, but on the setting as well.  The brief glimpse of Midian we get in this issue is already more expansive, and closer to what I had imagined when I read the novella than what was presented in the film.

The problems that often plague comics based on other properties, especially television series and movies, is that the artists are working with established properties and thus have to nail the likeness of the actors so that fans of the property can recognize who’s who, but in Nightbreed, it seems as though this adaptation may have gone into production earlier or during production of the film, and as the credits at the beginning of the issue state, the comic is adapted from Barker’s original screenplay, which again is a huge advantage to this book, as the version of Nightbreed currently available on DVD is the heavily cut theatrical version of the film that Barker has been quoted as not being pleased with.

Hands down, my favorite thing about this issue (and the series) is that Epic pulls no punches with the content in this book. While it’s nowhere near as graphic as some modern horror comics or even the work typically found in a comic magazine like Heavy Metal, Nightbreed (and its sister franchise Hellraiser) offers a mature horror comic that doesn’t shy away from presenting blood and violence without being gratuitous or exploitative, not to mention getting to see the Nightbreed themselves in a form that the special effects of the day could barely touch, and while the images are static, the ‘breed  have a kinetic quality that makes them leap off the page.

Visually this one of the most beautifully drawn and colored comics from the early 90’s that I’ve ever laid eyes on, and Jim Baikie’s line work, especially in the faces is perfect.  Each character is distinctive enough that even when the focus of a panel isn’t on a characters face, they still have a certain vibrancy to them, this is especially true of several small panels toward the end of the issue where we get glimpses of a few of the breed underground.

Nightbreed Issue 1 is a fantastic introduction to the series, and if you can find a copy (the only copy I could find on ebay at the time of this writing is signed by Clive Barker and listed at $39.99) it’s worth a read, especially for Nightbreed fans.

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