From the pages of Joe Hill’s successful horror novel, NOS4A2, comes one of the most genuinely scary comics to grace the monthly scene in years. Presented by IDW, Wraith: Welcome to Christmasland is a superbly written, character-driven story about killer snowmen, demonic children, brutal dismemberment, escaped convicts, giant evil teddy bears, and one very special motor vehicle.
In case you’ve been entombed for the past six years and aren’t aware, comics has a new horror king in Joe Hill. Writer and co-creator of simply one of the best series to come out in recent memory, the late horror-shocker Locke & Key, Hill has put out consistently great work for IDW, inarguably among some of the publishing house’s very best work. Oh yeah, and he’s also the son of some guy named Stephen King.
The latest and arguably greatest of Hill’s limited series efforts is Wraith (sorry, The Cape fans). The series is deftly illustrated by Charles Paul Wilson III, who you might know as the fellow who gorgeously illustrates Marvel characters as if they were in an alternate Winnie the Pooh universe (crossover, anyone?). In this series, CPW III proves nobody can draw a Christmas tree full of human head ornaments better.
Wraith is an original story set in the world of Hill’s novel, NOS4A2, however, readers don’t need to be familiar with the book to enjoy the comic. Aside from villain Charlie Manx and his dastardly 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith, Welcome to Christmasland is an entirely original story featuring brand new characters. Manx is a disturbing, rotten demonic kidnapper (as in, he actually nabs kids) with a heart-wrenching past. But where does he bring the children? Hill and Wilson catch readers up on the history of Charlie Manx in issue 1, which serves as a welcome prologue, while setting the scene for the bloodbath to come.
The main storyline follows Chess Llewellyn, a man recently found guilty for murder. Llewellyn’s story begins with his transportation to federal prison, along with a few other nasty characters, Denis Sykes (“King Geek,” an evil carny on his way to the big time for home invasion and murder) and Dewey Hansom (a washed-up ex movie exec rapist). After a heated backseat brawl thanks to King Geek’s clever manipulations, the flipped vehicle allows for the escape of these deplorable criminals and good-guy Llewellyn (well, aside from the whole murderer thing). Taking one Agnes Clairborne (a feisty elderly police officer) hostage, Hansom calls a vaguely recollected phone number, someone he had heard of, a ‘disappearance artist’ who can ‘make problems vanish,’ (cue Twilight Zone theme). As rotten luck would have it, this fellow is none other than Charlie Manx, which readers of issue 1 will know as the sad, bad motherfucker who kidnaps children and brings them to an ‘eternal Christmas.’ Sounds light-hearted enough, right? And off to Christmasland we go!
As readers might guess, Christmasland isn’t the milk-and-cookies getaway it’s cracked up to be. A holiday excursion quickly turns into a festive escape from Hell, as a close getaway turns into an even closer ‘get-the-fuck-away.’ The only adults in a DisneyHell world, Llewellyn and the others must figure a way to get out, and avoid becoming this year’s roast beast– no wait, this season’s Christmas cookies (I have a lot of Christmas puns). But, the question is, how do you escape from Hell?
This is a series complete with giant living moons, killer yetis, deadly snow mazes, cute kids, and plenty of gore. Did I mention that the story has a lot of heart, too? What escalates this tale above the vast gulf of horror comics today, aside from its originality and high level of scares, is that there is a solid story at its foundation, with genuine, three-dimensional characters.
The comic begins and ends on a ballsy note, with both a prologue and epilogue that feature almost none of the series’ central characters, yet appropriately bookend the creepy 5-issue main storyline. The epilogue, a truly risky maneuver by Hill and CPW III, reads like a creepy children’s storybook of yesteryear, even down to the retro cardstock paper on which it was printed. This is appropriate, as the series itself reads much like a children’s fairytale on salvia.
Horror lovers need look no further. This is a unique, genuinely disturbing, crazy ride through a snowbound nightmare. Fans of Hill’s longtime collaborator Gabriel Rodriguez will enjoy CPW III’s detailed, inventive, and blood-soaked panels. If he didn’t prove it enough in Locke & Key (he did), Wraith: Welcome to Christmasland is further evidence that Joe Hill was born to write comics. The title pulls no punches, and one of the best parts of the miniseries (and all of Joe Hill’s comics) is that you truly don’t know what will happen next. Almost every single issue of Wraith ends in such a way where you can’t see the series lasting another issue.
Although the series is wrapped up (with a bow), new and old readers alike can take the car for a spin with the special “Director’s Cut” of issue #1, with an extended story, original script, and every creepy variant cover. Those looking for the complete collection should see the Wraith: Welcome to Christmasland trade paperback in stores this fall, or at least certainly by Christmas– unless you’re on The Naughty List.
Look for Wraith #1: The Director’s Cut out July 23rd.