Published on December 8th, 2017 | by Dena Burnett0
Nightwing’s Tim Seeley writes a horror comic for Vertigo with Imaginary Fiends, which takes a while to build but hopefully the payoff is worth it.
I’m not afraid to admit that I had multiple imaginary friends growing up. Even with a younger brother, I felt the need to let my imagination run rampant and generate fragmented characters to follow me in my adventures through the tree groves on our farmyard. After this first issue of Seeley, Molnar, and Winter’s Imaginary Fiends, I’m relieved that they’re still haunting those trees, at least as far as I know.
Horror has very specific tastes, especially in comics. The medium allows for freedoms that are difficult to realize, at least prior to CGI, so there’s definitely something for even the most discerning palate. There’s also a myriad of flavours to pick from within each sub-genre, and with the current revival of horror mixed with a heavy helping of 80’s nostalgia and coming-of-age stories like Stephen King’s IT and the Duffer Brothers’ Stranger Things, Imaginary Fiends fits right in with the current smorgasbord, and makes for a very visual main course. If you enjoyed Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’ Locke and Key, then you’ll likely devour this new series.
Imaginary Fiends opens with a familiar flashback scene: five teens, in the chilly late summer air, figuring out how they’re going to deal with their newly-lost freedom and the excitement of a new year and a fresh start. All this comes crashing down when Cameron Calle’s little sister, Brinke, stumbles out of the trees bloodied and weakened. The first powerful full-page splash shows Brinke collapsed in Cameron’s arms, muttering, “Polly Peachpit” and leaving Cameron with an ominous, but distinct bloody handprint (think The Hand of Saruman) centered in her brother’s stunned face.
Cut to six years later at a juvenile detention centre, where we find eighteen-year-old Melba Li, chatting with her therapist and colouring pages. There’s a visitor for Melba, someone ready to convince her to join a special FBI Interdimensional Mental Parasites investigation group. Melba has the ability to see, and manipulate the imaginary friends, most often they’re a quiet confidantes or companions for lonely children – much like the ones I left in the trees at our farm – but some get hungry, and grow, and start to manipulate the physical world. We learn more about Melba’s troubled past, and her need for redemption. It turns out that imaginary friends aren’t so imaginary after all.
I’m most familiar with Seeley’s superhero stories: his current run on DC’s Nightwing and his James Bond influenced take on the same character in Grayson, not for his extensive selection of horror stories. I’m not new to this kind of story, although it’s not where I first recognized Seeley’s work, being the Bat-fan that I am. This is a slow-burn story that will pay off in the long run, much like his previous works in Revival or Hack/Slash, but it does take a little bit of effort to fully dive-in. There’s a lot of build, but I have a feeling that the pay-off from this series will be huge. Either way, the nostalgic elements of a lost childhood and Melba’s interesting character development will help satiate the slow parts in building the narrative. This is the first issue of a continuing series, so it’s just creating a place for this story. It’s horrific, cerebral…and creepy.
Stephen Molnar (Danger Girl, True Blood, Star Trek) excellently sets the scene for this story, especially in his expressive facial characterizations. You can plunge in the thick of Melba’s emotions when she realizes that she has to unleash the horrific friendship she’s found in Polly Peachpit. There’s fear in her eyes and angst in her actions. The art is dark, creepy, and immersive. This is Molnar’s first work with DC’s darker Vertigo imprint, and it’s a really impressive first instalment. Quinton Winter’s colours simply enhance the fear and emotion in the intense scenes, but bring a paradoxical sense of calm as well. The narrative and the art each compliment one another, making a really solid package in this story.
This is a slow-burn series, that might require a little patience to immediately dive into, but given the resurgence of nostalgic coming-of-age stories, I think the effort will be worth it. We can see a little bit of all of us in Melba Li, and in Cameron Calle — our forgotten imaginary friends and those hidden what if’s.
After this first issue, I’m really thankful I left those past imaginary friends in the tree groves at the farm. I don’t want to think about what they’re up to, or who they’ve latched onto now.