Russell Hillman and Sergio Calvet take readers down a heavily shaded path in their graphic novel The Dark of the Forest, a new story released by the UK publisher Freaktown Comics. The one-shot comic finds a group of Spanish kids venturing into the woods on a bird-watching expedition, only to encounter a mythical beast known to natives of the Navarre Forest as the Basajaun.
Hillman structures the plot like a generic horror slasher, complete with the weird stranger issuing a warning to the group. The opening of the comic takes a cue from '80s teen horrors; first we meet the group, traveling in a van to the Navarre Forest, and then we get to see them in their crazy antics. The bird-watching scenario seems a bit far-fetched given the nature of these characters, and Hillman doesn't go into detail about why they're doing it in the Navarre Forest. But the premise is only there to give the people a reason to be in the forest, so it doesn't matter that much to the rest of the plot.
Hillman breaks the group up during the day when they get to the forest so that he can explore relationships, which works well for The Dark of the Forest - there's little time to make these characters feel like real people, so he does what he can to show the connections between each of them. Some are lovers, others have crushes on people that don't like them. But there's at least a few pages spent with each character to make them feel like people we should at least worry about, even if we don't totally care for them personally.
The myth about the Basajaun comes up pretty quickly; it spreads like an old wive's tale about Bigfoot-type monsters in the forest, and then becomes a reality as some of the kids split up to head out in the woods. Though the plot is fairly generic, Hillman comes up with some bloody ingenious ways to kill off his victims. Some have their backs broken backwards, others have their rib cages pulled out; it's easy to write The Dark of the Forest off as a comic that re-uses the sub-genre's tropes, but at least it's original with its kills.
However, the comic ends with a potentially irritating conclusion that attempts to show the futility of the situation. It's a moment that defies the logic of most horror movies - a final girl is left to fend for herself against a family of Basajaun, only to find herself defeated - yet the comic feels somewhat lacking in content when the events take the path that seemed the most inevitable from the outset.
The Dark of the Forest is fun throughout its plot, though, and there's enough violence and nudity (plus a few laughs to boot) that makes the read worth it. The artwork by Calvet reminds of early Scooby-Doo animation; the character layouts are lanky and sort of muscular, with odd body types. Everything is very colorful, though, and it's done with a clean presentation that belies the more mature themes.
The comic is definitely worth a look even if it does fall into generic tropes, and Hillman's vision of the Basajaun monster changes the dynamic in this novel from the teen slasher.