THE EVIL WITHIN #1 by Ryan O'Sullivan, Szymon Kudranski, and Damien Worm
Based on the hit horror video game, THE EVIL WITHIN #1 is a trippy and dark opening issue that perfectly mirrors the air of the original game. However, the comic comes with its own problems as the transitions between reality and the dream state can confuse readers unfamiliar with the original game.
90 %
A Scary Good Time
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THE EVIL WITHIN, a video game from Tango Gameworks, treaded a lot of new ground when it released in October 2014. Critics received the story of Sebastian Castellanos with praise, and it sold well enough to warrant the development of a second installment. In the game, Detective Castellanos travels to Beacon Mental Hospital to investigate a grisly murder. When he arrives, the world begins to spin off its dial. Monstrous creatures and mutated human beings attack him from all sides, and he finds himself transporting between various nightmare-scapes. Sebastian soon learns that a mysterious group called Mobius has kidnapped him and used a device called STEM to force him into the mental reality of a serial killer. The consequences of this experiment were unclear at the time, but Titan Comics’ THE EVIL WITHIN #1 hopes to answer some of the questions players were left with.

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Image courtesy of Titan Comics

Opening just after the events of the original game, THE EVIL WITHIN #1 follows Seb as he tries to readjust to his normal life. This is made more difficult by the fact that no one believes his story about Beacon. His own partner doubts his experiences, and Sebastian is left to bury them within himself. His marriage to his wife Myra is falling apart, and he still has no leads on the murder of his daughter Lily. Sebastian is a broken man, but his life is about to get a lot worse when a new serial killer arrives in town. This “Fairy Tale Killer” murders two people (named Jack and Jill) and leaves mysterious symbols about the crime scenes. These symbols are perfect replicas of those Seb found at Beacon. He realizes, as the nightmares rage within his mind, that he is not finished with Mobius.

Welcome to the Nightmare

THE EVIL WITHIN #1 hooked me early on. Writer Ryan O’Sullivan fantastically adapts the cryptic and surreal world of the original game onto the page. The plot is incredibly interesting, lending to a second and third reading for me to glean more details from the art and dialogue. The shared artistic duties between Szymon Kudranski and Damien Worm left me speechless. Each artist covers a certain aspect of the story. Kudranski details the harsh realism of Sebastian’s detective work, while Worm depicts the surrealism of the dream sequences. Each artist creates work that looks and feels wholly different on the page, constructing a final product that is consistent and hugely diverse. This perfectly mirrors the dark, surrealist horror that the series is known for.

Image courtesy of Titan Comics

I appreciated O’Sullivan’s work in recognizing past events. One of the most chilling and surreal moments in THE EVIL WITHIN #1 comes when Sebastian discusses the events at Beacon with his therapist. Kudranski and Worm craft long panels across two pages, illustrating key moments of the game. Meanwhile, Sebastian and the therapist pair up, walking through these nightmares. This is a really clever way to do the exposition, and O’Sullivan nails it. While I have played the game, this refresher works well, and I have to give O’Sullivan his due for limiting it to two pages.

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This says nothing of the methodical plot of THE EVIL WITHIN #1. While it has little action, I never felt bored. O’Sullivan walks us through the early pages, past the exposition, and quickly drops us into the nightmare that we so desire. After both Jack and Jill turn up dead and the nightmare landscapes besiege Castellanos again, the tension grips you and pulls you deeper.

Is Any of This Real?

On the art and plot, O’Sullivan’s team perfectly captures the tone of THE EVIL WITHIN #1. However, other than Sebastian, characterization seems to falter for me. O’Sullivan’s depiction of Sebastian feels better than the game. He really didn’t have much to work with. In the video game, Sebastian barely escapes the noir detective stereotype, and little makes him stand out. The setting drives the original game, not this stock character.

Image courtesy of Titan Comics

O’Sullivan manages to capture a really human aspect of Sebastian. The detective appears tired on the page, beleaguered. The world is out to get him. We feel for Sebastian from page one, and though he still feels like a stock detective, his emotions do come through. When he meets The Keeper, a guardian of the original STEM project whose head is a lockbox, Sebastian comes off as rightfully afraid. But just after that, as he reveals that these killings have ties to Beacon, Sebastian almost seems giddy. His features light up and he comes alive.

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However, this brilliant subtle characterization isn’t spread around. Sebastian’s partner never really makes an impact, but this is somewhat understandable. His role is a disbelieving voice. The biggest confusion I faced in THE EVIL WITHIN #1 stems from Sebastian’s wife Myra. In the original game, she disappears from Sebastian’s life after the death of their daughter. She eventually reveals herself as an agent of Mobius. Tango never fully explores her reasons though. Now that she has returned to the series, there is no exposition relaying how she arrived in this spot. In fact, her only characters moments involve arguments with Sebastian. For a character with so much potential, she almost has no role in this issue.

Final Thoughts: THE EVIL WITHIN #1

In general, THE EVIL WITHIN #1 is a fantastic opening issue. O’Sullivan et. al capture the tone of the original game. The drab look of Sebastian’s world inspires feelings of unease. While characterization falters, THE EVIL WITHIN #1 shows the potential of comic book adaptations of video games. I always worry that the original atmosphere of the game won’t be matched. I largely don’t care if writers retcon or even discuss canon elements. They simply must acknowledge the original tone and themes of the story. O’Sullivan’s team does just that with this issue, and for that, they deserve deep praise.

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