Friday, October 9, 2015
Recommended Reading for 10/9: The Halloween Legion- The Great Goblin Invasion
Here's a funny little process story for this blog, because I know everyone loves blog process stories! I read and really enjoyed The Halloween Legion back in October of 2013, which if you go back and look, was the low ebb of my writing here, as I was in the process of moving. I really wanted to write this up as a Halloween season recommended reading, but I just didn't have the time. And last year, well, it slipped under the mental radar. But this week, I was looking over my shelves, trying to find something appropriately Halloween for today, and this bright yellow binding popped out at me, and I remembered how great this book was, and so... process story done, and recommendation begins here.
When talking about Coraline, Neil Gaiman has commented that kids can take the scary stuff better than adults can, and I think I may have made a comment similar somewhere on here at one point or another. Kids are mentally resilient, which is why kids horror like Goosebumps is a genre that is not going away. Today's recommended reading, The Halloween Legion, is another all ages monster comic, a hardcover graphic novel released by Dark Horse from writer Martin Powell (who wrote the classic Sherlock Holmes/Dracula comic Scarlet in Gaslight) and artists Diana Leto and Thomas Boatwright, with some legitimate scares and some heavier themes, where a team of monstrous heroes face down an invasion of goblins in flying saucers. And if that sentence doesn't at least pique your interest, I'm not doing my job right.
The opening page of the book gives a quick rundown of the team of monster heroes who defend the own of Woodland, a place where spooky stuff clearly happens regularly: The Devil, aka Molly Aldrich, who is a local girl who happens to be a fire elemental; The Skeleton, and immortal giant; The Witch Grimalkin, whose ugly exterior hides an internal beauty; Freddy, the ghost of a boy who now has amazing ghost powers; and Autumn, who is addressed as "THE black cat," with powers and who always knows what must be done. They're all very distinct character types, working together is a classic team dynamic: Molly is impetuous (hot-headed you might say), The Skeleton is somber, Grimalkin is motherly, Freddy is wide eyed innocent, and Autumn is, well, a cat. The fact that they click so well as a team immediately gets the readers to like them and let's their best traits shine through.
The story starts out with the team assembled and clearly having been working together for some time. Everyone has an established backstory that becomes apparent to the readers over the course of the beginning of the book. While a bit of internet research revealed that Powell has written a Halloween Legion novel that the comic serves as a sequel to, I never felt lost. Powell does a good job of establishing who everyone is and what their stories are without a ton of exposition, which is one of the signs of a strong writer.
The plot of the book sees a mysterious solar eclipse hit the town of Woodland, which it is quickly revealed is caused by goblins in flying saucers. Whether they're strictly alien, or some manner of supernatural and alien combined isn't made clear and doesn't really matter, as they begin to abduct townsfolk. The Halloween Legion springs into action, but he goblins not only have overwhelming numbers on their side, but science weapons that seem to counter many supernatural powers. The stakes are immediately established by having a little girl named Alexandria become the face of the people, as her mother is abducted and the Legion has to protect her. There's a reason why the waif in danger is a trope, as it gives immediate buy-in for a reader to hope she's protected, and to have her be a former classmate of ghost Freddy adds a layer to his character, letting him interact with someone his own age and learn a bit more about how he feels about being a ghost.
One of the major beats of the graphic novel involves the gremlins having technology that shuts down the Witch's powers, leaving her free of the curse that makes her appear as a witch and shows her true beautiful appearance, but leaves her unable to help in the battle. The only way to restore her power is for The Skeleton to transfer his life force to her, which might be the one death he will not return from. There's a lot of pathos in that situation, but I love the nobility of both characters, with the Witch willing to sacrifice her chance to not be a monster and The Skeleton willing to give his life with nary a second thought. We also get to go into The Skeleton's lab and meet his assistant, Huston the rag golem, who has a really great design.
The art in the book is stellar. Thomas Boatwright does the pencils, with design direction from Halloween Legion co-creator Diana Leto. The cover has a pull quote from Mike Mignola, and I can see an influence there, with some of the big, blocky characters and creepy atmosphere. But his humans have more realistic faces, which helps especially with Molly, who is a teenage girl, and needs that level of expression to show everything she's going through, especially as he reader's "in" to the world. I absolutely love the look of the goblins, and the scenes of them appearing en masse are absolutely creepy. Boatwright is listed as artist, so he colored his own work, and I was really impressed by the colors after the sun is blotted out and the alien crafts arrive. The weird, ugly green they shine from their ships is a perfect color choice, unnatural and otherworldly.
The book also has a fun little back-up story, "Once Upon a Halloween," which Powell says is a creepy experience he had on a Halloween as a kid that led to his creation of The Halloween Legion. Whether or not that's true, I don't know, but it's a neat story with art by Diana Leto, and a nice cap to the book.
I can see a lot of set up for future adventures, including Freddy's growing powers and he townsfolk distrust of the Halloween Legion, not to mention Molly's high school adventures, but as far as I can tell, there haven't been any other adventures for the Halloween Legion. I'd love to see some more spooky, exciting, and fun adventures from this team in the future, as either comics or novels.
The Halloween Legion graphic novel is sill in print and available at comic book shops and bookstores everywhere.