A Dark Interlude sees us returning to the harrowing world of Fearscape and it’s flawed hero Henry Henry. Ryan O’Sullivan’s Fearscape was one of the smartest books we read in 2018, and this new volume is every bit as self aware and gloriously self referential as it’s predecessor.
Publisher: Vault Comics
Writer: Ryan O’Sullivan
Artist: Andrea Mutti
Price: £3.19 from ComiXology
As you would expect with a book which is as smart and self aware as this, the story begins, not with an epic splash page, but with a letter – from our protagonist Henry Henry – who is now in prison after attempting to murder the daughter of his mentor Arthur. Henry was found guilty of plagiarising Arthur’s work for his own debut novel, but more importantly he also found himself drawn into the mythical world of the Fearscape where the world’s greatest author (Henry?) was required to do battle with the world’s greatest fear.
If Fearscape was a glorious mix of high fantasy and meta literary criticism, then A Dark Interlude follows on it’s smarter-than-smart footsteps. However this time, the subject for O’Sullivan’s pen is sequels and franchising. With Henry in prison his publishers are looking to exploit his legacy and publish a novel he has written in prison as therapy – especially now that Jill will not allow her father’s work to be re-published. Cue a series of sharply observed scenes looking at the nature of sequels and mass market culture, all hidden wrapped up in a slice of high fantasy – as we also begin to learn more secrets about what goes on in the fears cape.
If you loved the first Fearscape, then this is another tour-de-force read that continues the first book’s gloriously ambitious tone and even takes it up a notch. With constant barbs about how characters are not introduced properly for new readers, this is probably not a title for newbies, however that is not because it is proscriptive, rather than you need to really experience the whole first volume to get used tot this style of book on offer here. However, if you are fans of the book already, or of books like Sandman or Saga then there is a lot here for you to get your teeth into.
It’s the one and style which really make these books tick. O’Sullivan mixes narrative styles, sometimes telling the story in genre’s voice and sometimes in those of the characters. The tones are very different and O’Sullivan revels in his clever wordplay and self referential ideas – yet never crosses the line into smugness. Or if he does, then it is intentionally as plot device! Everyone is along for ride, even the lettering, as is seen in the prison scene with Henry and Aunt Rose which replicates a similar concept of obscuring a character’s face with word balloons – something we saw in the first book involving the Muse.
As with Fearscape, artist Andrea Mutti is more than up to the job of matching O’Sullivan’s ambitious world building. The artwork retains that almost vintage Vertigo approach and feels very stylised and old fashioned, but that works really well to play up to the idea of this being a genre based story – even one full of self reference. The worlds of the Fearscape and the real world blend seamlessly and his realistic but structured style reminded us of Paul Moore’s wonderful work Planet of Daemons, as well as it continually reminding us tonally of the Sandman series. (Yet unlike Neil Gaiman’s epic this book benefits from having a consistent artist from volume to volume!)
Along with GIGA, A Dark Interlude, is another indie masterpiece from Vault Comics and the reason why we keep harping on about how good they are as a publisher! If A Dark Interlude was an Image book, it would be an Eisner dead cert, and so it is amazing to see such ambitious and intelligent comics being made in the current climate from such a relatively unknown source – and that’s why we continue to champion books like this as these are what indie comics are all about!