A family returns to their ancestral New England home in the wake of a tragedy. Shaky relationships and long-buried secrets serve to undermine any pursuit at peace even before supernatural elements arrive to wreak havoc. This plot for an iconic haunted house story is certainly familiar and its familiarity stems, in part, from its potency. Dismissing the formula would be to dismiss many great works of horror, including recent comics installments like Locke & Key. However, tackling such well-trod territory demands more than a spark of creativity from storytellers as competition for attention is already fierce as fall begins and interest in horror reaches its peak. The Plot #1 takes this conceit and infuses it with new life by emphasizing mood above all else as reader's are ever-so-slowly immersed in a swamp of family debts and lingering fears.
The first issue in this new series from Vault Comics, one of the publisher's most accomplished debuts to date, utilizes its extended page count to allow space for a lingering sense of dread to be constructed rather than dumping exposition on readers. There is just enough information given that the only questions left to be answered are purposeful in nature. Current relationships are established with enough detail to avoid cliches (although a generally speechless young boy and his dog avoid any definition). Family history is made a central mystery of the story, but notes on mental illness and a long continuity of wealth inform how and why each new step is taken. It is something of a tightrope act in scripting, but one that values pacing well enough to avoid many common pitfalls.
Co-writers Michael Moreci and Tim Daniel's sense of economy in parsing out details provides plenty of space for artist Joshua Hixson to construct a strong visual sensibility in this issue. Many pages only contain a spattering of word balloons, filling both action sequences and lulls in the plot with meaning. The Plot understands that horror is something to be experienced, that a campfire story relies as much on a potent pause as each new word spoken. Hixson constructs backgrounds that are engrossing. Inks cut open the sky and space around the old house in Cape Augusta, Maine upon which the story centers. His use of shadow is every bit as potent as readers might have previously seen in Shanghai Red, and Jordan Boyd's colors enhance nighttime panels with a carefully selected palette of purples.
There is a heartbeat present within the pacing of The Plot #1 as it moves between moments of building dread or sudden horror and quiet gatherings of celebration and mourning. It's the slow, steady, increasing beat of a dead man dismembered beneath floorboards, though. While some of the scenes set in daylight fail to illuminate characters with the same style or nuance as others, each moment of darkness is resonant. A lack of clarity between reality and nightmares in these moments only makes them more powerful as even anticipated violence carries an element of surprise. This is further enhanced by designs of swampy settings and their inhabitants which read unlike anything else in comics at this moment.
The Plot #1 has only begun to define what its plot is beyond the familiar horror tropes on display, but the characters and themes introduced provide far more fertile soil than where the Blaine family is returning. Notes on history, long-held regrets, and legacy are all established and hold forth a promise for the story to come. This first issue focuses on constructing a potent foundation for those ideas to unfurl and delivers a potent mood to carry them forward. The result is an engrossing first issue—one that sets the mood for October beautifully and promises that the best is still to come.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Published by Vault Comics
On September 25, 2019
Written by Michael Moreci and Tim Daniel
Art by Joshua Hixson
Colors by Jordan Boyd
Letters by Jim Campbell
Cover by Joshua Hixson