Twisted Dark Volume 2
Written by Neil Gibson
Volume 1 of Twisted Dark was reviewed back in August last year. I finished off that review of the anthology with these lines:
“The stories ……. all share a common theme – a simmering, twisted darkness. Sure, I liked Gibson’s stuff far better when his twists weren’t huge things, but even though some disappointed there’s more than enough in here to say it’s a good book.
Twisted Dark is an impressive debut from Gibson, one he’ll hopefully build on for his next projects. As is, Twisted Dark is just that; a series of nicely written twisted and dark horror stories.”
So here we are, Volume 2 of the Neil Gibson written anthology. But to be honest it hasn’t done what I hoped, and if anything, it’s slightly less satisfying. Gibson notes in his introduction that the feedback from Volume 1 prompted him to slightly adjust the tone here and as a result there are less attempts at clever twists and a lighter tone to some of the tales.
And sadly, that really feels like a mistake. I certainly don’t mind the lack of gore, I don’t mind the lack of obvious shocks or a cutting back on some of the twists, but in trying to tone it down slightly there’s a loss of the best elements of what made a lot of Twisted Dark Volume 1 work and there’s too little that truly chills in the book.
However, at 196 pages and with 11 stories, there’s still praise to be handed out:
(Legacy by Neil Gibson and Marc Olivent, from Twisted Dark Volume 2)
Some of the best tales have a glorious hint of darkness, less immediate shock, more creeping threat. Take for example the first story; Legacy by Gibson and Marc Olivent. An artist and his agent, a deal done, a lasting legacy ensured, but at what cost? It’s a great little story, beautifully drawn by Olivent, really playing with darkness and shadows.
Other tales show that it’s possible for the work to be bathed in light yet still provide the required chills. Becoming A Man by Gibson and Balanquit Jr takes a fairly stereotypical imagined African coming of age ceremony and uses the primal fears involved to great effect:
(Becoming A Man by Neil Gibson and Antonio Balanquit Jr, from Twisted Dark Volume 2)
I said before that the best Gibson stories are those that simmer, that don’t rely too heavily on the twists. And so it is here in Volume 2, the best two stories without question are two with a sense of creeping terror; Paranoia by Gibson and Marc Olivent, and the final story Popular by Gibson and Caaspar Wijngaard.
Both stories rely on a single narrator, a single point of view to allow tension to mount. With Paranoia, it’s a husband gripped with that creeping sense of unease, a what if, a fear of what might happen…
Gibson slowly unravels the man, leading him down the path of madness as his attempts to keep himself and his family safe from his imagined fears escalate. It’s perfectly done, and Olivent’s angular art of dense blacks compliments the story well, although it does degenerate into a very poor Frank Miller Sin City pastiche at the end. Fortunately by this stage I was deep enough into the story to not really care.
(Paranoia by Neil Gibson and Marc Olivent, from Twisted Dark Volume 2)
If anything, Popular, the final story in Volume 2, does it even better, with a genuinely chilling, low key story that has a delicious sense of encroachment in a very modern story of the online stalking of a beautiful young woman and a threat getting closer, and closer, and closer.
Winjgaard’s art does a great job of drawing us in, pages getting darker and darker, angles getting tighter and tighter. A truly great ending to the volume.
(Popular by Neil Gibson and Caaspar Winjgaard, from Twisted Dark Volume 2)
There’s a lot to enjoy here, just as there was in Volume 1. But a nagging doubt comes up again and again. There could have been, possibly should have been, a better experience. There’s a really good set of stories in Twisted Dark Volume 1 and 2, but possibly only enough to make one very good book. Across two volumes it’s all stretched a little too thinly.
Twisted Dark Volume 2 is available from Neil Gibson’s website.