29 May 2008

Cover To Cover: SALEM QUEEN OF THORNS #1

Review by Matt T

Salem #1
Writer: Chris Morgan & Kevin Walsh
Art: Wilfredo Torres & Andrew Dalhouse
Boom Studios $2.99

I was one of the unfortunate many who had to study The Crucible at school. I know, it’s now seen as a seminal piece of work commenting on McCarthyism and the cold war, but at the time it was a boring play in which everyone says ‘Goody’ a lot. The prospect of a comic, which is supposed to be fun, set in the same era didn’t exactly scream ‘Good Times!’ to me. In fact quite the opposite.

Granted, I read the preview issue. Which, as it turns out, was bloody good. Not only did it drop a Clint Eastwood-style priest into the middle of the witch trials, but it began to claw back some semblance of interest I had in that time period. The fact that just about anyone could accuse anyone else of being a witch on the grounds that their washing wasn’t as clean must have been insanely tense, and the fact that people were dying in horrific and insane ways creates the perfect setting for a horror-tinged comic. There are a few of those wonderful cliches of the genre that have to be established though, which Salem has in spades. Hard-edged hero with a hair-trigger temper and plenty of dangerous weapons to launch about with abandon? Check. Good natured but ultimately stupid sidekick who is so na├»ve it’s a surprise he’s upright? Check. Feisty woman who can hold her own whilst maintaining her vulnerable status and occasionally needs rescuing? Check. Villain who slaughters lackeys? Check. The list could go on.

But I’m missing the point here. If Salem was filled with characters faithful to the period, it would be dull. Certainly as a comic. And plenty of effort has been put into replanting the characters with the right kind of motivation, making even anti-hero man of the cloth, Hooke, somewhat believable. The dialogue crosses over into Arnie-style cheese on occasion, but never for so long as to be painful, and the next action scene is never too far away. The horror movie influence makes its way into the panels too, making sure the angles allow just enough to be seen. The odd horrific tree-creature looks suitably scary, although the baby version just looks silly. Less is often more in such cases, and a fleeting glimpse before the obligatory beating would have sufficed.

Still, Salem was definitely a step in the right direction for a first issue. It didn’t drag with too much back story, or miss out any important facts, and there was enough action to keep even me interested. A well paced non-spandex book that should appeal to horror fans and those who had to suffer The Crucible (the book, not the snooker venue!).
8/10

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