It’s almost Halloween, which means the Brown household is in the middle of its annual Joe Hill October (Joetober? Octohill?) Celebration. Between consuming Wraith, Horns the movie, and Horns the book for Tor.com, I’ve also spent my lunch breaks at work binging on his ebook short stories.
At this point, most of you should be at least passingly familiar with Joe Hill, but to quickly sum up, he’s a masterful writer of horror fiction who has also spread his talents into graphic novels. For this special Halloween edition of Pull List, we’re talking Wraith: Welcome to Christmasland, but I also highly recommend The Cape (no, not the TV show Abed was obsessed with) and, of course, the excellent Locke & Key.
Wraith: Welcome to Christmasland, written by Joe Hill with art by Charles Paul Wilson III and colors by Jay Fotos, is a prequel to the novel NOS4A2, (or, in the case of issues #1 and #7, prequels to the prequel). The comics don’t spoil the novel, but they do shed a lot of light on how bad ol’ Charles Manx and his sinister sedan came to be, and what he was up to before he started terrorizing Victoria McQueen and her family in NOS4A2.
Charlie Manx is a monster who kidnaps children to take them to his imaginary realm, Christmasland, a fantasy world of endless fun—if by “fun” you mean “turning kids into shark-mouthed vampires who stab adults to death with scissors and turn their decapitated heads into Christmas tree decorations.” When a pair of prison guards transporting some prisoners are hijacked, Manx comes to the rescue as the getaway driver for the three prisoners, Chess, Hansom, and a sadistic carnival geek. Joining them as their captive is guard Agnes, a badass older woman who’s tougher than most of the criminals she’s in charge of. Manx hauls them off to Christmasland in his Rolls-Royce Wraith, license plate NOS4A2. There the adults must survive long enough to attempt an escape or be ripped to shreds by Manx’s pack of monstrous children.
The seven issues of the stand-alone series were released between November 2013 and June 2014, and were compiled into a volume released August 2014.
To Pull or Not to Pull
Manx steals children away from “bad” parents and feeds on their souls while transporting them to his inscape. He loathes all who have lost their childlike sense of wonder, but what he feels for his demon hellspawn is the kind of love that corrupts and destroys. He’s like a cross between Nosferatu, Peter Pan, and Krampus. Charlie Manx is a grotesque goblin with a personality to match, making him deeply, profoundly, and disturbingly unsettling. Horrible circumstances in his childhood may have opened the door to wickedness a little early, but he would’ve forced his way through eventually anyway. He is worse than a villain, who usually has reasons, whether valid or not, for their actions; Manx is pure, uncut evil, straight from the source.
In NOS4A2 he is downright horrifying. It’s been many moons since I last read the book, and I still get freaked out by him. In the comics, Wilson has no time for your coiffed, emo, Anne Rice vampires, opting instead for a creature who’d make the things that go bump in the night cower under their own beds. I just wish he got more screen time to be as hideous as he is in the book. Most of the horrors come from the devilish kids rather than the man himself. When it comes to the main plot with the prisoners, he sets the evil in motion and keeps the ball rolling, but he acts largely from the sidelines. Agnes and Chess, on the other hand, are so fully developed I kinda what a prequel to their stories just so I can spend more time with them. If someone could do a Velvet-style comic of Agnes being awesome, that’d be fantastic. Please and thank you.
Wilson’s art deserves its own mention here, because goodness gracious but it’s gorgeous. He has a very particular style—you could never confuse Wilson’s work with anyone else’s—and it meshes perfectly with Hill’s literary style. The creepier Hill’s words get, the bloodier Wilson’s illustrations become, which pushes both from lush to lurid. Wilson’s art forces Hill to write to his strengths, yet Hill’s words drive Wilson to even greater depths of depravity. The art and the text are killer independently, but together are greater than the sum of their parts. The background is packed with Easter eggs, much like Hill’s novels, and it’s just as fun to find them in the comics as it is in the books. While I love having a visual representation of him, I really didn’t need the nightmare fuel. The Manx Moon is burned into my brain from now until the end of time.
If it were any author other than Joe Hill, I’d probably complain about the overabundance of exposition. Because there’s a lot of backstory. The first and last issues are almost exclusively infodumps, while the remaining five often get jerked out of an exciting action sequence so two characters to have an expository heart-to-heart. While that works very well in a novel or short story, it can make a comic feel a little draggy. In fact, Wraith often feels less like a graphic novel and more like a heavily illustrated short story. It speaks to Hill’s immense talent as a writer, then, that the text blocks are just as intensely thrilling as Wilson’s frightening artwork. I can see how it could be a bigger hurdle for some to overcome, but for me it worked. There will never be a time when I complain about too much Joe Hill text.
Storywise, Wraith is probably more satisfying if you’ve read NOS4A2 – and if you haven’t, dude, seriously, get on it—than if you’re coming in blind. Charlie Manx is bad enough to function just fine outside the purview of the novel, so if you haven’t delved into 700+ page tome, the comics will probably inspire you to do so. Wraith stands on its own as a one-off series, but soars when folded into the larger Hill mythology. It’s a straight up horror comic. Joe Hill doesn’t go for the senseless torture porn of sexually active young adults, but instead goes for foreboding dread and creeping fear. If you’re on the hunt for a good horror comic to indulge in while hiding from hordes of trick-or-treaters this Halloween, you can’t go wrong with Wraith: Welcome to Christmasland.
Tune in next time for Batgirl and Thor…
Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.