The Closet #1 Review: The Horror You Can't Leave Behind

"Wherever you go, there you are." That's the lesson that the family in The Closet—from writer James Tynion IV, artist Gavin Fullerton, colorist Chris O'Halloran, and letterer Tom Napolitano—is poised to learn. First released via Tynion's Substack page and collected here in print for the time, The Closet #1 is a surprisingly quick read, especially for an issue that makes up one-third of the entire story. And yet, looking back, it does everything the first issue of a comic should, setting the tone, making clear the premise, and pinning down the story's themes. All that's left is waiting for more.

The Closet #1, a story about a family, primarily takes the point of view of Thom, a man making the pointed choice to avoid being with that family. Thom is supposed to be helping his wife, Maggie, pack for a big move. Instead, he's turned a trip to the store for packing tape into at least three drinks at the bar, spilling his guts to the barkeeper that he can't stop looking backward at his life before getting married and having a kid. Epitomizing the sentiment is the box of books belonging to an old girlfriend unearthed during the packing process, a remnant from a past relationship Thom supposedly tossed out. Thanks to Tynion's tender, not unsympathetic dialogue, it's hard to tell whether he's lying to others about believing he'd taken care of the books or lying to himself.

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(Photo: Image Comics)

Upon returning home, Maggie chastises Thom for his delinquency and inattentiveness. Unfortunately, these recriminations are all the characterization Maggie gets. The issue spends most of its time contextualizing Thom's thoughtless behavior. Still, there's no doubt she's right to be angry with him. At a moment when they should be working together as a team, Thom is too busy drowning his midlife crisis in alcohol and hoping that a change of venue will turn him into the father and husband his family deserves.

But that's where the closet comes in. Thom and Maggie's son, Jamie, sees a monster within it. Thom and Maggie disagree on how to approach the situation. Maggie thinks Jamie needs a child psychologist to help him get to the root of his fears. Once they move away from the closet, Thom feels Jamie won't have anything to be scared of any longer. It's a perfect distillation of their differing approaches to the family: Thom is coasting on hoping that problems will fix themselves, while Maggie is looking to put in some work.

The bad news for Thom then is that the closet has decided to come with them. The monster too. It's not a subtle metaphor—wherever you go, the skeletons (or other monsters, as may be the case here) in your closets will follow—but the execution sells it. The comic presents itself as a mundane reality until the final few pages. The layouts are straightforward. The colors are moody and dark but not to the point of being unsettling. It isn't until the visuals pull away from Thom and Maggie's fight in the living room, flowing down the hallway into Jamie's bedroom, where a black, toothy, and tumorous creature manifested by the tension appears, that the horror of this horror story bubbles to the surface. The restraint by the creators in the early pages makes the monstrous reveal all the more impactful.

It's somewhat remarkable that Tynion's horror work has a consistent visual style for someone who does not draw their own comics. And yet, the visuals of The Closet—thick lines, simplified characters, scratchy lettering, and twilight colors—would look right a home next to those of Something Is Killing the Children or even The Sandman Universe: Nightmare Country. That's perfectly fine because The Closet walks the same tenuous line at the edge of where reality meets nightmares. Is this monster something that Thom and Maggie have brought to life, or simply Jamie's means of externalizing the anxiety of his home life?

Those answers will have to wait. The Closet #1 is a page-turner. It's unfettered by overwrought narration, rendered obsolete by the impeccably crafted, atmospheric artwork. Thom comes off as a bit a sad sack but not unrepentant, and his hangups are common enough to be relatable, or at least understandable. Hopefully, Maggie receives the same depth of characterization in the remaining two issues as The Closet's metaphorical mysteries continue to drag readers deeper into this nightmarish family drama.

Published by Image Comics

On June 1, 2022

Written by James Tynion IV

Art by Gavin Fullerton

Colors by Chris O'Halloran

Letters by Tom Napolitano

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Cover by Gavin Fullerton