Hand Me Down, a one-shot comic created by writer Alex Paknadel, artist Jen Hickman, and letterer Simon Bowland, uses demon summoning in the suburbs as an unexpected catalyst for a struggling family. The 16-page comic is a fun mix of horror and unexpected humor, driven mostly by leaning into well-worn tropes and then upending them for unexpected effect. The comic focuses on the struggling married couple Reuben and Lyra, who have lost their footing after Reuben moves out to the Connecticut suburbs to better fit in with his well-heeled co-workers. As Lyra contemplates divorce, Reuben cajoles her to attend a house party, with well-dressed suburbanites wearing masks in what's clearly building to some Eyes Wide Shut shenanigans. But while Lyra leaves the party before getting in too deep, her husband decides to stay... with unexpected (and yet, not surprising) results.
While Reuben's possession by an otherworldly entity isn't the most shocking at twists, it serves as the moment where the comic begins to upend our expectations. The comic wisely chooses not to fixate on explaining the entity's otherworldly powers or origins, but instead dives into the impact it has on the family. Instead of dealing with unsettling moments of dreads, the entity actually pushes Reuben to become a good father to his son, while the neighbors seethe in rage. It turns out that the cul-de-sac has been controlling the creature using a series of rituals and using it....mostly as a sex toy. The idea that a bunch of rich, white Wall Street types think they can use a demon as a glorified dildo is a hilarious twist, and it forces an unconventional arrangement when the neighbors kidnap Lyra and Reuben's son in a desperate plea to get the entity back.
With only 14 pages of comic, Hand Me Down uses bits of exposition and off-panel implications to do some heavy lifting. Lyra is a wonderfully fleshed-out character, but her husband seems only a bit better than the droll suburban villains right up to the point that he gets possessed. We never get to see any of his redeeming features, other than he seems perfectly content to time-share his body with a demon to keep his wife happy. The comic also tiptoes around the social issues of a mixed race couple trying to fit in a predominantly white neighborhood, likely due to that same lack of space. After all, there's only so much that a comic can do when it needs to present a full story in just 14 pages.
Jen Hickman's art is frankly fantastic. She has a knack for facial expressions, communicating quiet joy and disgust, and seemingly having a blast with all of it. I feel that a lot of the emotion of this comic could have been lost under a less talented artist, but Hickman does a great job of illustrating the mix of horror, dread, and also tenderness that makes Hand Me Down work so very well.
Hand Me Down is a perfect example of how much a comic can do with only a few pages. The comic doesn't try to rush through to the twist, nor does it linger too long to let the story's veneer fade. Instead, we get a perfectly paced comic that shows more heart than a lot of ongoing series depict in a year's worth of pages. This is a great mix of horror and happiness, the perfect chaser to jump-start the spring comics season.
Published by TKO Studios
Written by Alex Paknadel
Art by Jen Hickman0comments
Letters by Simon Bowland
Cover by Jen Hickman