Black Friday (#1 – 3) – Jon Clark

2 out of 5

I actually mostly enjoyed Black Friday, setting aside what the rating suggests. Jon Clark posits a nasty little “holiday”-themed horror tale, sequestered in a Wal-Mart-esque shopping mall post the titular yearly sale celebration, and centered around several employees (as narrated to us by clerk Javier) who are plagued by the sudden appearance of some beasties. What helps elevate this beyond a standard supernatural slasher is that there’s an intriguing sense of the Unknown at work – more The Descent than Jason – and Clark balances brutality with somewhat upbeat dialogue, but not in a forced sense on either half of that equation: Javier’s casual thoughts feel appropriate to the scene, reflecting shock – and without any try-hard overuse of swearing for effect – then also swinging back to humor for his own sanity. This stuff works.

The art doesn’t, unfortunately, and because this turns into a chase that requires a lot of visual guidance in the second and third books, that makes a huge impact to the believability. And it’s not that artist Travis Williamson is bad – not at all! I actually appreciate the pairing at points, because the artist’s stretched, sketchy style and splotchy colors (like Bill Sienkiewicz and Sam Keith mushed together) helps make the beasties more frightening – they have this unidentifiable, completely inhuman look to them that’s appropriately monstrous – and I think, in this instance, the more surreal depiction of the gore works better for the story. But, as mentioned, the book ends up needing something a bit cleaner when it comes to the details, meaning it’s more not a good match overall, as opposed to the art not technically (or subjectively) being good. And this does creep in early: a narrative description of what the characters are seeing sounds infinitely more odd and interesting than the way it’s depicted; there’s a separation between words and pictures, which is never a great sign in comics. As things intensify, there we lose the geography of the store; the choreography is entirely unclear; and there was one completely pointless and unnecessary boob shot that… I’m not against such things, but in this case it’s so off in the corner of the frame it just makes one wonder… why?

Mismatched art doesn’t have to hit the rating so hard, but as it ends up really undermining the momentum, and clouds the conclusion – revelations don’t land because, again, they don’t feel properly represented in the pictures – it’s hard to not see the book as a bit of a missed opportunity.