Vampire bats attacking a downed plane in the jungle – sounds awesome, but needs more room to breathe.
Image Comics has been on a roll lately, pumping out comics worthy of your wallet on a weekly basis. Authors love the creative freedom at Image, and the comics they have been putting out are truly quality. The Belfry, written and illustrated by Gabriel Hardman, is the latest critically hyped book hitting the stands and I personally had high hopes for this one.
It’s a horror story regarding an airliner crashing in a remote jungle. It’s got a giant vampire bat on the cover and a dark and foreboding art style. What isn’t there to love, right? Hardman wanted to stretch his creative muscles with this book and enter the horror genre, and for a first effort, The Belfry is pretty remarkable. The concept makes up for the pacing and execution flaws, making me wish for the stellar original graphic novel that this should have been.
Let’s talk about the best part of this one-shot, and this is a no-brainer – the art. Hardman deftly uses the nighttime setting to maximize black space and uses hints of light to flesh out the threat. And the threat looks terrifying! Hardman’s art here perfectly conveys the terror the passengers feel, as well as the monstrous extent of the threat, especially when you realize its scope and purpose. Hardman incorporates noises into his art, which I admittedly like, to help convey the atmosphere and is especially essential given the limited page count. The art sets the tone for The Belfry and is a visual treat, well worth the price.
The one-shot starts just after the airliner has crashed, and from there it’s a non-stop action ride. Unfortunately, the plot is bereft of character development, which is part of the larger problem with The Belfry, if you don’t care about the characters then the twists and turns in the horror story are relatively meaningless.
My largest issue with The Belfry is that the page count does not allow the story to develop at an engaging and dread-developing pace. This one-shot should have double the page count at a minimum. In fact, it would have made an excellent original graphic novel. The concepts are truly intriguing, and this would be an engaging, terror-filled read if it had room to let the emotional beats sink in. Hardman doesn’t have the pacing down pat yet for a horror story, but he is letting people know that he is truly an A-list talent.
I’ve found myself thinking about his ending repeatedly, upon the first reading I was ambivalent, but the more I think about it, the more I like it. Let’s be honest, this one-shot is not tied into a nice, neat bow at the end.There are plenty of open threads left for Hardman to pursue if he wanted to, and I wholeheartedly hope he does.
For a first foray in the horror genre, this was a pretty impressive debut, and I will definitely keep Hardman on my radar now. The Belfry manages to subvert expectations, despite being in a well-trod section of the genre, and should highlight Hardman for bigger and better things. My major issue with the book is that editorial should have stepped in and mandated an original graphic novel, giving this story room to breathe would have created one hell of a comic. I think this book is worthy of a purchase, if only to see the art and the promise of Hardman’s concept.Hopefully his next horror outing is a return to The Belfry with a little more depth to it.
- Awesome art
- Amazing concept
- Thought-provoking ending
- Needs more pages to breathe and develop – the small page count demands constant action for any sort of resolution
- Character development is almost non-existent