“A Voice in the Dark” #1 by Larime Taylor begins with a killer hook of a first line: “Dear Diary, It’s been 72 days since I killed someone.” The reader is then rapidly immersed in the mind of emotions of Zoey Aarons, straight-A student and teenage killer.
The freshness of the crime (and the fact that Zoey has seemingly gotten away scot-free) reinforces the suspense. It’s a little too convenient for future narrative conflict that Zoey’s uncle is a homicide detective, but the ending cliffhanger during Zoey’s first night as a radio call-in show host is realistic.
Zoey is a new take on the Homicidal Hero trope recently popularized by “Dexter,” but her youth, gender and biracial heritage distinguish her. Taylor gives Zoey a strong voice, and all these aspects of her identity are clear without smelling of tokenism. Taylor’s character designs for the cast of “A Voice in the Dark” cover a range of body types and ethnicities comfortably. Both his thick line and approach to panel composition are clean and spacious-feeling, and his facial expressions are subtle.
However, as Zoey herself says, her gender, race, childhood and socialization are somewhat beside the point, because they don’t explain her desires to kill. Zoey’s life is defined by her dark side and her attempts to grapple with it given that she knows right from wrong. For a “killer narrator” setup, “A Voice is the Dark” #1 is relatively restrained. Taylor is far more invested in the psyche than in gore. Like “Dexter” and other recent homicidal heroes, Zoey is a sympathetic protagonist, even though her compulsion has resulted in a death and is close to taking over her whole life.
Taylor centers the story on Zoey’s internal struggle, while laying down the shape of things to come in the external world. The subplot of an serial killer about town feels disjointed from the rest of the story in “A Voice in the Dark: #1, even if it is obvious that the killer’s path will intersect with Zoey’s in the future. In interviews, Taylor has revealed that Cutter’s Circle, the college town, has the highest population of serial killers in the country, and while it’s a fun idea, it’s also an obvious plot engine. Similarly, it feels manipulative that Taylor holds back the full details of Zoey’s kill for future issues, even if the doling out of the catalyzing event makes sense for the narrative pacing. That said, the flashback to a police interrogation is particularly well-structured and layered, and the withholding of information from the reader works well for that scene.
Characterization is the strongest aspect of “A Voice is the Dark.” Zoey’s move to a new setting, youth, emotional intensity and her search for identity and control give the narrative the shape of an off-kilter coming of age story. Her reasons for wanting a radio show feel natural and psychologically plausible. She isn’t lovable, but she is interesting, accessible and emotionally complex, and Taylor uses her predicament to explore deeper themes of free will and identity.
Taylor successfully funded “A Voice in the Dark” as an independently published miniseries before the title found a new home at Top Cow/Minotaur, and it’s easy to see why. His craft lives up to the task of fleshing out his catchy premise.