Killadelphia #1 Review: An Urban Horror Nightmare That's Chillingly, Brilliantly Real

killadelphia 1 image comics
(Photo: Image Comics)

When it comes to horror comics there are certain tropes and elements that seem to be their lifeblood and—pun not intended here—vampires tend to be one of them. But in Killadelphia #1, written by Rodney Barnes, the horror is far deeper than a bloodsucking tale. The book takes this classic horror element and drops it into the squalid, urban world of Philadelphia's poverty-stricken and race-divided mean streets, and adds a measure of daddy issues and family trauma, then turns on the blender to create a story that is part cop drama, part horror story, and part gritty noir in a stunning kick off to one of the most unique detective stories of the year.

The story of Killadelphia #1 follows two, distinct tales. A young Baltimore cop named Jim Sangster Jr. returns home to Philadelphia to bury his father, Philadelphia detective James Sangster Sr., but there are no tears shed for this loss. Jim Jr. wants to bury a man he hated and then move on with his life. However, there's never anything simple when it comes to family and the long shadow of Jim Sr. looms over the young man when he picks up his father's journal and discovers the horrifying truth about his father's last case. That last case—and specifically how Jim Sr. dies—is the second tale that the issue follows. The twin stories play out with a careful back and forth perspective, until everything collides as Jim Jr. solves for himself the truth of his father's passing with a reveal that sets the stage for the series' larger mystery that will play out as it winds on.

It's a dense set up for a story, one with a slow burn pacing that only really gets the heart rate pumping by the final pages. The surprise at the end really isn't much of a surprise—and that works well here. This isn't a book about the twist. It's a book about the long game. We're at the start of a nightmare and it's only going deeper, and that's a credit to Barnes' style of storytelling. Barnes may be best known for his work in television. He has writing credits on American Gods, Marvel's Runaways, and more, and it's that style of storytelling that shines here. Part of what has to be done in Killadelphia is a bit of worldbuilding because of the long shadow Philadelphia's real-world history casts on this story, but Barnes does this much the way television does—there's a preference to show rather than tell in his writing. It sets a tone and it sets it well.

Yet, even for the skill with which Barnes weaves his story, it would be nothing without Jason Shawn Alexander's art and even that would be lacking without Luis NCT's coloring. Alexander's images are raw and gritty without falling into that "noir" trap. Instead, you get a macabre style that feels a bit like you're in a demented funhouse. The world Jim Jr. finds himself in is a warped one and as the story progresses, the art supports that. The way the colors play into that can only be described as a perfect balance of light and shadow. Everything here is muddled, muted, dirty but the tones and angles give it a dreamy quality. The overall effect is stunning—especially in the final panel.

Overall, Killadelphia #1 is a strong debut. A dark, deep, seamless story that plays into multiple genres without becoming fully any one of them, the book offers a tantalizing nightmare of urban horror that feels real, rich, and mysterious. It'll infect you if you let it, and you should.

Published by Image Comics

On November 27, 2019

Written by Rodney Barnes

Art by Jason Shawn Alexander

Colors by Luis NCT

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Letters by Marshall Dillon

Cover by Jason Shawn Alexander & Luis NCT