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'The Last Halloween': In no hurry to get to the apocalypse

The old-school black-and-white sketches are a very good fit for Abby Howard's macabre sense of humor. This becomes quite apparent in Chapter 4 of The Last Halloween. Characters and horror creatures in previous chapters have generally been more -- how do I say it? -- adorable? The eight-legged creature that stalks Mona at the opening of the comic looks like something designed by the Jim Henson Creature Shop for the Storytellers series. Visually distinct, but not the stuff of nightmares necessarily.

The monsters of Chapter 4 are more creepily organic like hairless, feral humans. They actually remind me of the creature from XTro, a little-known horror classic that most people would write off as camp until that backward-jointed creature shambles onto the screen.

Howard's drawings are full of thin ink strokes and crosshatches that resemble Edward Gorey's iconic horror illustrations. They come into further focus with her use of negative space: Filled with black, the background disappears into the inky darkness of the website. It isolates the scene, generating the utter sense of creepiness even when the protagonist is a bug-eyed little girl who doesn't seem to have any fingers.  Some of it is fanciful, such as when Howard depicts tree trunks as long beams that unravel into nothingness like hollow pixie sticks.

The Last Halloween, however, is a webcomic that also doesn't seem to be in a hurry to get anywhere. Part of this is Mona's bull-headed refusal to be The Chosen One. She's given the ultimate weapon -- a scythe with an eye in it -- and rushed by her new friends (who are all cartoonish Universal Monster-types) to go off on an adventure. Mona does have a legitimate grievance, as she's just a young girl, after all, and not a particularly brave one at that. Surely a bigger, burlier, and better-equipped hero would be a better fit. (There's even a glimpse of this, too, as one interlude introduces us to a woman of action who manages to severely injure her beastly pursuers.)

The vertical format surprisingly stretches time out longer than if you were just clicking from panel to panel. A trick of the mind, perhaps? Or maybe an artifact of an earlier era, where flipping through a book is a more rewarding experience than unspooling a scroll. Either that, or it's Ringley, the adorable kid vampire who very much wants to be best friends with Mona. Depending on your outlook, he's either the most lovable character in The Last Halloween or its Jar Jar Binks. While I don't mind him much, Chapter 4 has proved to be  a Ringley tour de force -- to be expected, I suppose, as the action has shifted primarily to his house (an obviously haunted mansion disguised as a tourist trap). Multiple pages of Ringley's oh-so-wacky googly eyes and dialogue that seems to be written in all caps are what Thomas Paine was likely thinking when he said, "These are the times that try men's souls."

But it serves its purpose in turning Ringley's house into a claustrophobic space, one more suffocating thanks the unyielding blackness that surrounds everything.

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