One of the things you’ll notice about the graphic novels of strips previously published in 2000AD is how economical they are. Cradlegrave may number less than 100 pages, but it’s crammed with story. The panels are tight and claustrophobic, just like the run-down British housing estate the story is set in.
The book opens with the release of Shane Holt from a short stint in prison for arson. He’s keen to reform, but must brave the Cradlegrave estate, where he lives with his Mum, brother and dog. The estate is a complete dead-end. Local youths hang out on the street, while old people live in fear. There’s a heat wave, keeping temperatures stifling, and a council worker strike has left rotting refuse on the streets for weeks.
Shane is dragged back into his circle of loser friends, whether he likes it or not. However, he does find some solace with Ted and Mary, an elderly couple he’s known all his life. Unfortunately, however, something isn’t quite right with Mary.
A series of seemingly unconnected events occur. Shane ends up in a stolen car and is involved in an accident. Meanwhile his brother, and more and more of his friends, seem to be spending time at Ted and Mary’s. The atmosphere is intense and disturbing, and the journey though the book should please horror fans looking for something to thoroughly disturb. The boys spend a lot of time experimenting with drugs, but there’s no glamour to be found in this portrayal. In fact, the opposite is true.
The art is powerful and interesting, with Edmund Bagwell capturing the leering menace of the hoodie-clad youths. The computer-rendered buildings look a tad too different to fit in, but it’s a minor problem. What Bagwell does really well is flip from everyday street life to gross-out horror without batting an eyelid, though there’s a certain measured control to the speed with which it’s revealed to the reader.
The finalé felt a bit low key and open-ended to my mind, though some closure is achieved. But with a story that cranks up the tension, and art that fits the foreboding up-swell of menace, this is still well worth the time and attention of horror fans.