We’re all familiar with THE WALKING DEAD. It’s a comic about what humanity does to rebuild society in the wake of the zombie apocalypse. Filled with high tension, readers are quick to realize that the true enemy isn’t the walkers wandering around, but the humans who are waiting for the right time to stab you in the back.

HOWL takes this premise and theme and adds a few clever twists to come out with something altogether different. THE WALKING DEAD’s villains can be generally split into two groups (the mindless, instinct-driven, easy-to-identify zombies and the disconnected, crazy humans of the post-apocalyptic landscape, who are a bit harder to detect). HOWL, on the other hand, presents an enemy that is living next door, going to school with your children, and sharing your bed.

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That’s the nature of werewolves. Most of the time, they are normal humans, but on the full moon, they transform into monstrous wolf-creatures, wreaking uncontrollable havoc on everything around them, driven by animal instinct. This madness occurs with the lunar cycle. In fact, this is where the word lunacy originates: it was first used to refer to an insanity brought on by cycles of the moon.

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Most people in this book are werewolves, leaving our one remaining human, Jack, to fend for himself and stay hidden from his werewolf neighbors. Most of the time, this is easy enough to accomplish, but obviously, things become a bit more difficult every full moon. While transforming and running amok is illegal (everyone is expected to firmly chain themselves down before they transform), not everyone follows the law. Jack finds himself hunted by his friends and neighbors, taking drastic action to protect a secret that it seems will inevitably be discovered nonetheless.

It’s an interesting twist on the werewolf story. Where we are usually presented with a group of humans terrorized by a horrible beast, HOWL gives us something of the opposite. Jack is still written as a sympathetic character, but from the werewolves’ perspective, one could argue that he’s the terror. He’s the abnormal creature in this book, and, though he is acting in defense, his actions lead to the deaths and injuries of several werewolves. It’s not clear what the original causes of the initial outbreak are, or why Jack is unaffected, but this is the state of things.

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One werewolf who is safe from Jack is his wife, Laura. HOWL does a great job of illustrating how strongly these two care for each other. Laura is only concerned with whether or not she is going to hurt Jack when she transforms, and Jack stays by her, despite the obvious danger. A lot happens to these two in the first two issues, and seeing that relationship develop despite Laura’s lunar compulsions will be extremely interesting going forward.

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Laura is only one of the werewolves that is close to Jack. His next-door neighbor is our first real antagonist. Keep in mind that Jack is the oddball, here. He is the abnormal hidden secret of this neighborhood. Well, Jack’s neighbor discovers that Jack is not a werewolf like everyone else, and ultimately is killed by Jack. As the only human in his neighborhood, Jack is clearly not a part of the status quo. Therefore, it could be argued that Jack is the true villain of the story, the hidden enemy next-door.

The enemy next door is a common trope to horror stories (TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and PSYCHO), and the use of the trope harkens back to madness throughout history. Every time there is a hidden and suspected evil, it is followed by death; one only need look to the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, or Joe McCartney’s Communism Hearings to see how the hunt for the enemy next door can end lives. This leads me to suspect that the death of Jack’s neighbor in HOWL might lead to a similar witch hunt. Will Jack’s neighbors turn against each other?  Will Jack escape with his life? One thing is for sure: there are plenty of opportunities to give the audience something it has never seen before.

One challenge that the book has going for it coming out of its second issue is maintaining tension. Other human survivors, or at least werewolves that are sympathetic to the uninfected humans, will need to be found to move the story along and escalate the conflict between Jack and those who would hunt him.

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The art of the book cannot be forgotten. Helping to accentuate the intensity of the violence in the book, the smooth, cartoony style adds to the fun supernatural feeling of the book as a whole. There is plenty of action and gore, and the stakes are quite high, so the audience will have fun reading this book. The black and white monochrome look echoes THE WALKING DEAD, but masterful use of ink lets artist Dan Buksa tell the whole story without losing any effect from lack of color. The black/white dynamic also speaks to the dual nature of humanity in the book. The intense black is used for blood and gore; it’s easy to assume the black echoes the dark, animalistic nature of the werewolf.

Fans of werewolf stories will find few other werewolves in comics these days, and for that reason alone, this book is worth picking up. An even better reason is that it’s a heck of a lot of fun. For those of you who are looking to dig a little deeper into the minds of some complicated villains, HOWL is only two issues deep, and we’re already seeing just how interesting the dynamic of the werewolf mind can be.

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