Sanitarium (#1 – 4, Guardian Knight Comics) – Various

4 out of 5

I’m so glad I haven’t yet seen the movie version of Sanitarium.  An anthology exploring the backgrounds of those in the eponymous institution as introduced by Doctor Stenson, from this comic version – can’t say if its an adaptation, or an expansion of the film, or if it perhaps came first – you can just tell where the movie likely would have added in excess gore, or T&A, or predictable jump scares, and much of the dialogue which is perfectly perfunctory in comic form would be flat or silly live.  Now maybe it’s a great movie.  But maybe it’s not – maybe it’s the average-fest I imagine – and so I’m really happy to get to experience the comic as its own entity instead of having the shadow of a perhaps poor comparison looming over, tainting my read.

Because it’s pretty good!  Super indie Guardian Knight comics may not allow for the best printing quality or biggest budget, so the colors are a bit flat and the font is drag-and-drop computer type, but the one-Sanitarium-tale-per-issue format works really well – just enough pages to explore the story without padding – and artist Juan Romera’s basic linework gets the job done with precision: Characters are emotive to match the scenes, panels capture exactly what they need to, and his framing and pacing works perfectly for the slow-burn tone of each tale.  The writing, by various scripters, is consistent in important ways, maintaining a patter that, like the art, communicates what it needs to – character voice, perception – without overselling any particular sequence.  But most rewardingly, all of the tales feel unique.  While you can rely on each story to end with a “…and that’s why they’re in the Sanitarium!” sting, the path they take to get there is fun, and without all the leading tricks you can imagine a movie adding, even a bit surprising on occasion.

Issue 1 – ‘Monsters Are Real,’ by Bryan Ortiz, James Hartz, Evan Boston, and Scott Marcano, is perhaps the most surreal of the bunch, which makes it a good, creepy way to start things off.

Issue 2 – ‘Figuratively Speaking,’ by creator Kenny Valderrama, C.M. Bratton, and Marcano, hits the horror trope of scary dolls, but again, veers it down a fun road, with some good character work.

Issue 3’s ‘Up To the Last Man’ (Bratton, Valderrama and Marcano) breaks the format a tad, but is otherwise a pretty excellent paranoia thriller.

Issue 4’s ‘The Mold’ (Boston) is what sort of amounts to a creature feature, but again takes it down a rewarding path thanks to the characters and slow burn rollout.

The shame is that this is an intended 6-issue series but has stalled at 4.  But while any given issue may not catch you out or exactly frighten, they’ve held up for me after multiple re-reads, and get the horror job done in a much more satisfying fashion than a lot of the more high-profile genre books on the shelf.

Here’s hoping the publisher can manage to spit out the last two issues…

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