Pullbox Reviews: Midnight Highway #1 – Stay on the road, keep the doors locked. Hope you survive the night

  • Midnight Highway #1
  • Written by Mike Tener & Alex Maday
  • Illustrated by Alexander Malyshev
  • Colors by Hedwin Zaldivar
  • Lettered & Edited by Dave Lentz
  • Inside Cover Art by Alex Monik
  • Issue #1 & 2 on Kickstarter now!

Alex & Kelly are on what can only be described as the ideal date night. A drive-in movie, some dinner, and a promise from Alex as he’s dropping Kelly off that he’ll call her as soon as he gets home. Shucks, these kids really seem like the best and as a reader I can’t help but want the very best for them. Too bad for them both that Midnight Highway is a horror comic that promises all of the lurking chills of a classic horror movie from the 1980’s.

Bottom line is that it ain’t looking so good for the adorable young couple.

Horror comics can really be a tough sell. Things like mood & timing don’t translate well when compared to the movies, without a lot of work. As awesome as I think we can all agree that comic books are, they lack musical score, sound effects to impart the former, and the built-in pacing that sets the latter. In comics, the reader has to rely on the purely visual cues leading the eye from one panel to the next, from one plot point to another. Even more challenging if you’re looking at a comic with an average of 22 pages or so, all of this has to happen in a relatively short amount of time.

With some slick maneuvering and some quick characterization, Mike Tener & Alex Maday have managed to evade the horror comic pitfalls like they were the last camp counselor at Crystal Lake.

First, the reader is set up to really like the young couple of Alex & Kelly. They’re just too cute to be allowed to live, and therefore must be relentlessly stalked by whatever horrors Tener & Maday have dreamt up for them. The first indication of this comes in the last panel of the fourth page (check out the preview pages below), as a deer appears to be watching them intently and leaking something green- not normal deer behavior, in case you weren’t sure. Next up in the “holy crap on a cracker, what’s going on” parade is a bizarre voice that takes over Alex’s car stereo, welcoming new travelers to the Midnight Highway. From then on, things get… a little weird. It’s the meticulous and deliberate scripting that carries the reader from one panel to the next, lacking a musical score to tell you what you’re supposed to be feeling. Just around the time you’re thinking, “Huh, okay, what the hell was that about?” the next reveal drops. That’s how Tener & Maday manage the pace needed to really drive home Alex’s growing sense of dread, and it really was a thing of horrific & creepifying beauty.

Now we’re going to talk about the art, and on that note I’d like to offer a virtual high-five (just one of many on this book) to Alexander Malyshev for his work illustrating Tener & Maday’s script. From the start, Malyshev establishes a clean look for Midnight Highway as we follow the two main characters along on their date. Alex & Kelly are just a couple of clean cut kids, having good clean fun driving around. Oh yeah, and Alex’s car… Malyshev gave me feels for the classic 80’s muscle car he brought to life on the page. It all adds up to a beautiful little slice of life kind of story that we love to read about.

Hang on a second… This was supposed to be a HORROR comic.

Oh don’t you worry about that, because when it all goes horribly wrong- and it does- you’ll forget about all of that wholesome American Pie stuff, because once again Malyshev is on point! As billed, Midnight Highway is an illustrated love letter to the horror movies many of us grew up watching (even when weren’t supposed to be watching them as kids) in the 80’s. Once things start going off the rails, and the lurking horrors start to make themselves known, the very first movie that should come to mind is John Carpenter’s The Thing.

When colorist Hedwin Zaldivar starts to add his touches to Malyshev’s illustrations, the book goes from really good to disturbingly gorgeous. The visual cue, whenever things start to edge over into creepy territory, is a liberal use of the color purple. Zaldivar brings it in to lend a sense of otherworldly strangeness to the otherwise ordinary, and it works two ways. There’s the use of color to show us how the world of the Midnight Highway starts to ooze over into the mundane world we all know, as is hinted at early on by the voice on the radio (also purple), but Zaldivar’s array of colors also just makes this book pretty. That contrast between the horror elements and the bright splashes of color worked to throw me a little off-balance, all the better to take the fall into the chaos to come as the story moved along.

I’d be laying down on the job if I didn’t take the time to point out the great work in lettering by series editor Dave Lentz. Things start out with pretty standard panel layouts and nothing out of the ordinary happening. Lentz keeps everything nice and smooth in those early pages, setting the dialogue so it doesn’t interfere with the illustrations. It’s easy to follow, just the way good lettering should be. Then when things start to lean into the strange, Lentz kicks it up a notch. Everything still flows through the panels, but the fonts keep to the color theme I mentioned, and they totally stay in tune with what’s happening on the page. If anyone happens to be looking for a lettering style labeled “Gibbering Madness”, take a look at Lentz’s work for reference.

In general, I find that horror comics work best as one-shots. Sure there have been exceptions to that, and in the case of Midnight Highway I have to say, yep, this might be one of ’em. The story has so much going on, bouncing the reader from one “what the hell…?” moment to the next at a brisk pace without going too far over the top, that staying interested shouldn’t be an issue. Hopefully as the series continues on with its crowd-funded origin, it doesn’t lose momentum along the way.

Until the next instalment, tune in your radio…

Roll up the windows, and lock the doors…

And whatever you do… Don’t. Stop. For hitchers.

Final Score: 12/13

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