Oh, Gothic horror. No one can stay mad at you!
Whispers in the Walls is a nice volume from Humanoids that is written by David Muñoz, drawn by Tirso, colored by Javi Montes, and translated by Alex and Quentin Donoghue (I’m going to go out on a limb and say those two are related).
It costs $19.95, which isn’t bad until you consider that Humanoids inexplicably split this up as a six-issue mini-series for release in the States and then only released four issues, all of which I bought. So I paid a little extra. You only have to pay twenty dollars!
The fourth issue of this book came out in November 2010, and then it disappeared. Until this collection, that is, which is a lot better than the original issues. First of all, it’s a European comic, so I doubt if it was meant to be serialized in the first place – it was meant to be read as a complete album. Second of all, this book is larger than the single issues, and the paper is better quality, so the art is much more legible. In the serialized version, the colors were so dark and the pages smaller, so it was very hard to read at times. The coloring is still dark, but because the pages are larger and the paper is a bit glossier, it’s much easier to read the artwork. It makes the entire book better.
The comic is a fairly typical horror story, which doesn’t mean it’s bad. Sarah is a young girl who wakes up in a castle in Czechoslovakia in the 1940s. She remembers that her family was killed by a vampire, which is distressing. She’s also being poked and prodded by several doctors, who won’t tell her what they’re doing. She eventually meets three other kids who are also being poked and prodded, and they decide they’re going to figure out what’s going on. It turns out that they’re part of a big war between various monsters – vampires and werewolves, mostly, but some other strange things – and the people holding them captive, who seem to be part of an organization devoted to killing all the monsters. The kids themselves have some odd abilities, and the doctors claim they’re looking for a cure so that they don’t turn into full-fledged monsters. Ah, but are the doctors really okay? Well, of course not! They have their own deep, dark secrets.
Muñoz unspools the story in a rather conventional manner. Sarah wants to escape because she doesn’t trust the doctors, and the king of the vampires has a psychic connection with her that allows her to evade the guards. The monsters tell her they just want to be left alone, setting themselves up as the noble victims, but Sarah doesn’t buy it.
She doesn’t know who to trust, and of course she and the other kids get caught in the middle and have to choose sides. Some of the kids die, Sarah has to make difficult choices, a traitor is revealed, someone thought dead isn’t really, and it all leads to a bloody conclusion. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s basically an action movie with horror trappings. Within the twists and turns, Muñoz keeps it very simple, so reading it all at once is much better than reading it in installments, where the breaks between issues kept this reader from really appreciating the grand story. When I read it all at once (I took one break, but still), everything fit together better. Either Muñoz or the translators made one embarrassing mistake – the book specifically occurs in 1949, but some of the dialogue states that the Nazis did something six months earlier and other dialogue implies the Nazis are still around, even though at another point two people discuss the fact that they’re Communist now. I imagine that it’s supposed to be 1949 and the reference to “six months” ago is wrong, but who knows.
Tirso’s cartoony art is extremely nice, and although Montes makes a lot of the book dark, due to the improvements over the serialized version, we can see the art in its glory, and it’s very nice.
The monsters are deliberately grotesque, from the pale, thin, tall vampires to the massive werewolves to the other weird things lurking around, and Tirso has a very nice, kinetic style that helps his action scenes flow very nicely. As usual with European comics, there’s a lot of visual information on each page, but Tirso’s page designs help keep everything clear and never let us lose focus. His details are wonderful, too – we get a strong sense of location wherever we are, from the spooky castle where Sarah is kept to the underground tunnels of Prague. The comic needs to be grounded because of the supernatural things populating it, and although Tirso makes the places as creepy as he can, there’s no doubt that this is all taking place in the “real world.” I’m not the biggest fan of Montes’s coloring, because even with the improvements in the format, it’s still a bit too dark, but it does help establish a mood.
I can only Mildly Recommend Whispers in the Walls because Muñoz doesn’t do enough to distinguish it from any other monster story. The vampires, the organization devoted to wiping them out, the revelations throughout the course of the story – they’re all very familiar, and while the artwork is very nice, it’s not enough to overcome the clichés in the story. It’s an enjoyable enough read, to be sure, and it’s not a bad way to kill an hour or two, but it’s also frustrating because it feels so familiar. If you’re a fan of horror/action, this might be a nice comic to check out. But it could have been better, unfortunately. I wish it had been!