Wednesday, January 04, 2012

The Hidden by Richard Sala

Most artists are collections of their influences and ideas; only a very few are purely themselves, with no admixture of anyone else. Richard Sala, I'd say, is in that select company. Oh, sure, his creepy graphic novels take place in worlds not unlike those of Edward Gorey or Gahan Wilson, but his characters are entirely different -- and Sala seems to have arrived in that neighborhood by entirely different paths.

I've been reading Sala for years, though it seems the only time I've written about his stuff before is a ComicMix review for Cat Burglar Black, a slightly untypical book for Sala -- it was ostensibly for teenagers, and didn't see a dreadful end come to its entire cast -- that came out two years ago.

The Hidden is closer to a standard Sala, an apocalyptic story in which one tough young woman -- this time named Colleen, and darker-skinned and more sensibly-shoed than usual for a Sala heroine -- finds herself in the midst of supernatural horrors, deep secrets, and more than a few up-close-and-nasty deaths. This time, the apocalypse is sudden and all-encompassing: monsters burst forth on the second page, and the explanation (such as it is) doesn't come until nearly the end. But what does it matter why or how the world is ending? The time to worry about that is before it ends, and it's far too late for that in The Hidden.

So Colleen, and her boyfriend Tom -- who wants to be strong, but young men never fare well in Sala's graphic novels -- were lucky enough to be out in the wilderness when the worst happened, and so are still alive and wandering. And they were lucky, or perhaps very unlucky, to run into a wild-looking man who doesn't know his own name. He leads them to a group of other survivors, and Colleen learns the monstrous secrets of their guide -- of the creature he created, long ago, and the race of monsters that creation has patiently made and now released on the world.

The Hidden is even bleaker and more nihilistic than most of Sala's work; his stories usually end with a smaller evil -- a mass-murderer or criminal -- suffering a suitable end as the plucky girl escapes, barefoot. But there's no hope for humanity in The Hidden, and little hope for the few people surviving at the end. That may be a consequence of the fact that The Hidden is quietly a sequel to a famous book by someone else, but I should warn you: this book is dark and bleak even for Sala, and that's dark indeed. There are still hints of his mordant humor, and his precise lines and color washes are as ghoulishly appropriate as always -- but The Hidden out-Salas any of the prior Sala books, which is an unlikely and impressive thing.

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