This is the comic adaptation of the Stephen King short story, “N.”, by the same writer and artist behind the 25-part webisode adaptation of the story that appeared online prior to King’s collection of short stories, “Just After Sunset”, came out. While I haven’t read the short story or seen the webisodes, this first issue is almost good enough to make me want to. Guggenheim’s script is confident and Maleev does his usual strong art, although the comics medium itself works against the story somewhat.
The prose story is told through primary documents (newspaper articles, a therapist’s notes) and there’s a hint of that here with each section of the comic beginning with a splash page showing the documents that drive that section of the comic. In 1911, something happened at Andrew Ackerman’s house where he died, as did his wife and daughter, and the house burned to the ground. In 2008, Sheila’s husband, Johnny killed himself because of a patient who went to the place where Ackerman’s house was and something happened there that changed him.
The building of tension throughout the issue is effective, going from 1911 to Sheila, to Johnny’s session with ‘N.,’ the patient that drove him to suicide. The first two parts only take up a few pages each, delivering a strong set-up for the sessions and N.’s story about what happened in Ackerman’s Field. It’s a creepy tale that is never quite scary, but comes very close.
Where the horror falls flat is in the build-up. We know whatever N. tells us was so horrifying that Johnny killed himself. While this obviously isn’t the whole story, seeing it drawn doesn’t match the build-up. This has been a fault in other comics where horrors so traumatizing that they drive people to suicide are discussed, but can never be represented visually completely. Comics readers are accustomed to fantastic creatures and visuals and seeing a horror isn’t always as effective as reading about one. The power of suggestion and allowing it to exist in a reader’s mind is part of what, no doubt, made “N.” effective as a short story.
That’s not to say that Alex Maleev’s art is bad; Few artists are up to the task of drawing something so horrifying that it matches the build-up. It’s difficult for most artists to scare people because of the static nature of comics. The pacing here comes close, particularly during the scene in Ackerman’s Field where Maleev wisely shows us the horror through N. By seeing his reactions and how disturbing it is for him, it becomes more disturbing for the reader, and Maleev conveys the fear and terror of N. very, very well.
Like Marvel’s other Stephen King adaptations, the creators involved are top notch and that skill translates here. Horror is a very tough genre to do effectively in comics and this issue falters in places because of the static nature of the medium, but Guggenheim and Maleev create tension through N.’s words and how he reacts to what he encounters to get across the frightening elements of the story. It’s a great use of a character to stand in for the reader and allow him or her to experience the events of a comic through said character.