Written by Neil Gibson
What we have here in this third collection of stories from Neil Gibson is….. well, it’s a third collection. And although there’s some very good stuff in here, it has a feel of rehashing material that we’ve already seen in Volume 1 and Volume 2, there’s simply a sense of the overly familiar, the law of diminishing returns.
Just as before the tales here are dark, and most of them have a twist of some form or other. And this formula leads to formulaic. I was looking for the twist too often, and for the connections that Gibson likes to put in his stories as well.
Too harsh here? Oh, perhaps. But the worst thing is that Twisted Dark is just so limited. I would much rather Gibson spent time working on a second issue of his series Tortured Life. That had promise and was significantly different from his work in Twisted Dark, proof he doesn’t need to stay here in this self-imposed rut.
(Growth by Gibson and Caspar Wijngaard from Twisted Dark Vol 3)
Sure, there are good strips, and when they do get it right there’s a great sense of reading something tight, and twisty, and good.
This volume covers so many different spins on horror, amongst the stories here we have; drug lords looking to punish betrayal in new and interesting ways (and an excuse for a little torture porn with a new use for bamboo), jealous spouses with money to spend in hitman shopping sprees, lovesick tales of lost loves, survival on the high seas and the lengths someone would go to to stay alive, the body horror and psychological trauma of pursuing the perfect look, the despair of the lonely old lady trapped in her care home.
But the problem is that the themes keep repeating from the previous volumes; mob bosses, drug cartels, psychological problems, body issues. And no matter how well Gibson manages to twist some of these stories, there’s always that thought of “wasn’t there something similar last time?” and “I wonder when the twist is going to happen?”.
(Career Choice by Gibson and Leonardo Gonzalez from Twisted Dark Vol 3)
When it’s at its very best, Twisted Dark Volume 3 reaches the impressive quality and invention we saw in the first volume. Career Choice, with a clever link to a prior tale, and a truly creepy tale of childish dread at the contents of that wardrobe is perfectly paced to let the creep take over your mind, before cutting away to something gorier and not so scary. Silent Justice, the story of the mute accountant for the mob and the trouble he finds himself in is a real blast, even if you can see where it’s going from practically the start. Doesn’t matter, the delivery makes it work, all tense and claustrophobic.
The final tale particularly stands out as something special: Peace and Quiet by Gibson and Atula Siriwardane, where Gibson really gets the tension just right, creates something interesting and involving, building it all up, sending us the wrong way until that final twist in the lives of a family struggling to deal with a silent autistic child. And there’s something very old school horror comic about the art and the tones I liked as well.
(Peace and Quiet by Gibson and Atula Siriwardane from Twisted Dark Vol 3)
But then there’s the “rape as a clever device” story in Drink Driving, which just comes off as wrong. It’s not that the subject should never come up in fiction, of course not, but it’s something that needs handling well, carefully, thought out and necessary. Having the last page of the strip be a badly drawn leery bloke looming over a handcuffed, prone woman in the back of a car…. just too childish, too salacious, too lecherous, too much like the stupid porn wet dream of a teen boy, it comes off as nasty, just seeming to portray rape as the final line of a really bad joke.
So this volume of Twisted Dark feels the weakest of the three. But on reflection this isn’t down to a lack of quality, but simply an attenuation to the style and format. If you’e coming at this first time round, I think you’ll be very impressed. But I’ve read the rest. This is a horror film franchise several sequels later, and it feels past its best.
Again, just like with the previous volumes, there are some great stories and art in here, and again, as I said last time, something of a greatest hits Twisted Dark, picking the best from all three volumes would really be ridiculously strong, utterly twisted, and yes, very, very dark.