I first heard about Joe Hill’s new miniseries, a comic book adaptation of his scripts for the smothered-in-its-cradle Tales from the Darkside reboot he was doing for the CW, during his book tour for The Fireman. Needless to say, everyone in the audience gasped and squeed in excitement and anticipation. As I was sitting with several people from the local comic shop I frequent, I of course leaned over and asked the owner to put it on my pull list right then and there.
A few months later and the series has wrapped (or has it?!) and all I can think is how cool the TV show would’ve been. Granted, I’m still in mourning for his other DOA TV show, Locke & Key, but how awesome would a horror anthology be right now? There’s nothing like it on the schedule and the premise is chockablock with potential. Good thing, then, that the adaptation very nearly lives up to the high expectations.
The original Tales from the Darkside was a television horror anthology series that ran for four seasons back in the 1980s. Based off George Romero’s Creepshow, the series featured standalone stories from some of horror’s greatest authors. Back in 2013 it was announced that horror writer Joe Hill would write the scripts for a reboot set to air on the CW. When the channel passed on the show, Hill decided to convert the scripts into a comic book. The Tales from the Darkside comic book tells three separate but related stories of people interacting with the Darkside, a sort of parallel plane populated with nightmares and terrors.
Joe Hill is the writer of both the not-greenlit TV Tales from the Darkside show—the scripts of which are collected in a trade volume—and the miniseries of the same name. Artist Gabriel Rodriguez and letterer Robbie Robbins, his partners in crime on Locke & Key, join him yet again, along with colorist Ryan Hill and Michael Benedetto adapting Hill’s TV scripts for the comics. The miniseries was published by IDW and ran for four issues from June through September 2016. Although I have not been able to verify this, supposedly if the comic does well Hill will continue past the four issues, which would explain why the issues are numbered individually rather than “1 of 4” and so on. But for now the series has ended.
To Pull Or Not To Pull
Tales from the Darkside is the perfect vehicle for Joe Hill, a writer known for telling disconcerting stories where morality is in the eye of the beholder and there really are monsters under the bed. In his stories, the villain is either evil incarnate or a normal person twisted and corrupted by circumstances beyond their control, often both simultaneously. These villains lash out at the protagonists, people who aren’t very heroic but find small ways of overcoming major character flaws. Life is unfair in Joe Hill’s works, and terrible things happen to good people because terrible things happen to everyone. This fine tradition continues in Tales from the Darkside.
In the first issue, a recent high school graduate named Ziggy takes up endless partying after bidding his girlfriend adieu when she travels overseas. Sex, drugs, and alcohol become de rigeur for Ziggy, to the point where he falls asleep while on lifeguard duty and a woman drowns. Due to court shenanigans, he gets off scot free, but that doesn’t sit well with the widower. Or Ziggy, for that matter. During a state of deep depression, Ziggy discovers he has the newfound ability to put people to sleep just by looking at them. Ziggy dons a full-body cover up, including a theatrical mask he used to wear while performing Richard III with his girlfriend. When the widower comes after Ziggy shortly after he reunites with his long-lost girlfriend, things come to a bloody head.
The fourth issue revolves around teenage babysitter Joss and her boyfriend Carter. Joss accidentally runs over the mailbox of her new neighbors after the appearance and disappearance of a mysterious man (more on him in a tic). The adults are Leave It To Beaver-esque uber parents, all huge smiles and sweater vests, while the kids are glued to their tablets. The kids are elfin in appearance but they’re more demonic than cherubic. Turns out the tablets allow them to see into the Darkside, a pocket dimension or alternate reality not unlike the Upside Down from Stranger Things. Horrific creatures, lead by the kids, attack Joss and Carter.
The second and third issues are a two-part story concerning Brian, a put-upon man terrorized by seizures and hallucinations. Big Winner, a non-corporeal being that punishes anyone who offends Brian, has ruined Brian’s life, and when the opportunity presents itself to have Big Winner removed from his brain, Brian jumps at the chance. Unfortunately for all involved, Big Winner proves tough to kill. Brian’s brain surgery inadvertently yanks Big Winner into the real world and Brian out of it. Though he was able to interact briefly with Ziggy in issue #1, by #4 he’s more smoke than man when he freaks out Joss.
And that, my friends, is where the series ends. It’s clear Hill is playing a long game, the fruits of which we may never get to harvest. The ending as is is rather abrupt, like having a cool new TV show get cancelled only a few eps in. With such concentrated storytelling, the characters never get developed enough, meaning most of the emotional beats never really hit home. The horror elements are as great as they usually are with Hill, but sometimes the scarier moments are lost in the preponderance of plot that never gets off the ground. Michael Benedetto does a solid job converting Hill’s work between mediums, however a straight adaptation of TV scripts just doesn’t translate well, or at least not in only four issues. Don’t get me wrong, the comic is still a good series that I highly recommend to any fans of Joe Hill, the Tales from the Darkside TV show and movie, or horror anthologies in general. But it’s also not one of his best works.
Gabriel Rodriguez’s art is on point as always. His style is detailed and realistic yet animated without coming off herky-jerky or cartoonish. Where other artists would draw a scene at standard perspectives, Rodriguez leans toward unusual angles and meaningful closeups. Ryan Hill opts for a muted color palette with humans—like he took bold jewel tones and mixed in a splash of gray or dirt brown—and a vivid one whenever the Darkside turns up. It gives the world an eerie feeling and builds tension for the plot whenever the palettes shift. Robbie Robbins’ lettering is clear and crisp and the sound effects visceral and effective. I’m a little disappointed at the lack of diversity on the production and creative sides, but at least the characters on the page are diverse.
Hill’s comic book adaptation may not be as expansive as the television series would’ve been, but it’s a fine return to form. While not as groundbreaking as other series like The Cape or Locke & Key, Tales from the Darkside is still a spooky little entry in the ever-growing Hill canon.
Alex Brown is a teen librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.