Pullbox Reviews: Show’s End #1 – The circus is in town!

Equal parts brutal and beautiful, Show’s End takes place in Georgia during the1920s and follows Loralye, a 12-year-old runaway seeking refuge with a traveling group of freak show performers. At first, she isn’t welcomed for being too “ordinary.” But what her new found family doesn’t know, is that Loralye is hiding a secret more freakish than anyone could ever imagine!

1928. Between the Great Depression and a three year drought, nothing was easy and any respite from harsh reality was welcome.

For some, the circus offered an escape. For the customers, it was a chance to take a step away from the ordinary, to see things that pushed daily drudgery aside if only for a short while. For those who made it a home, outcasts and vagabonds all, the circus offered a place to belong. For those who didn’t quite fit in anywhere else, it was a chance to start a family among those who knew what it was like to be cast in the role of the outsider

First in the next round of titles scheduled for release from Mad Cave Studios, Show’s End is a bit of a break from a lineup that runs the gamut of high fantasy, to sci fi, to cyberpunk. For this, the Cave Dwellers are dipping into creepier territory as it explores the world of Ringmaster Dax and his band of misfits. Between you and me, this was a title I’ve been looking forward to since I got a look at the roster of upcoming Mad Cave releases.

Writer Anthony Cleveland has a lot to draw inspiration from, not the least noteworthy is the 1932 cult classic movie Freaks. It’s the members of the freak show that’s at the center of Show’s End, and Cleveland is working into that concept of family. Not satisfied with making it a straight up drama featuring life among circus folk, Cleveland steps it up with supernatural elements to be explored. As he’s introducing his threads in the opening issue, I’m seeing some great opportunities for character development and exploration down the road. It’ll be interesting to see how deep he takes this dark & twisted world and the people who live in it over his scheduled five issue run.

If Mad Cave Studios has managed to do one thing, it’s been in coming up with consistently impressive and distinctive artwork. Maintaining that tradition, Jef Sadzinski has his work cut out for him. The biggest challenge that I’ve seen so far looks like it’s going to be in the area of character design. No surprise, part of the fun in reading this issue was in picking out all of the members of the circus and their unique… occasionally disturbing… traits. On the more stylistic side of the artwork, I like Sadzinski’s non-traditional page layouts. Rather than just use a standard series of panels laid out in a grid to fill the page, his panels often overlap larger pictures. The effect works great to pull readers along with the story, smoothly leading the eye rather than just letting us plod along from left to right, box to box. Adding to the visual flair of Show’s End, Julian Gonzalez brings color to the world. What works best is the way he uses shades to set the mood in a given scene. It works in the same way that a musical score will bring the audience into a scene’s tone during a movie, only Gonzalez does it by switching up his color palettes.

Show’s End marks a break from the norm for Mad Cave, not the least of which being that it isn’t written by CEO and Chief Creative Officer Mark London (take a break, Mark, you’ve earned it), as it leans into some pretty dark themes. Exploring the darker side of circus life and the “us versus them” mentality, this one has a shot at bridging a gap into the horror genre for the Cave Dwellers.

Final Score: 8.5

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