It’s not often that you find the story and the art in comics to be of varying quality – usually good writers and artists stick together. But while there’s a decent enough story in this book it plays second fiddle to some of the most exotic art you’re likely to have seen of late. Both story and art are trippy, dream-like, gothic affairs, but the art shines so brightly that the story can do little more than pad along behind, looking like a less confident friend hoping to hitch a ride on the artwork’s exuberant flair.
The eponymous Salem Brownstone is drawn into the lives of a troop of circus misfits when his father, who was one of their number, passes away and leaves him his house. However, there’s more at stake than bricks, mortar and a part in a travelling performance, and Brownstone Senior’s death attracts the attention of a group of demons, who feel they can use this break in some kind of mysterious magical defensive continuity to establish an outpost presence amongst humanity. One of them manages this by manifesting as a housefly and tempting a human puppet into its service.
It feels like chapter one of a much longer piece – an introduction of sorts. This may be the case but we don’t learn enough about the main characters to particularly make us want to follow them. Instead we’re introduced to a handful of support characters and plot foundations, which look like they’re going to be of importance in some greater story arc but play virtually no role in the development of this book. There’s some mystery around the succession of Brownstone into his father’s world and what part these demons play, but not enough information to fully engage the reader.
Thank heavens for the artwork then, which lifts it above and beyond the story. Nikhil Singh is clearly gifted, infusing his deeply detailed and wispy work with a strange and other-worldly aesthetic. His willowy characters are surrounded by the smoke from their cigarettes, while the demons’ eyes appear made from the writhing bodies of tortured souls.
If you enjoy dark fantasy art with an urban edge, the book might almost be worth getting for the art alone. The story hasn’t set us alight though it holds a glimmer of promise. It might have been nice to see more of it in this volume though if, as must be the case, there are more books to follow.