David Hine’s sinister supernatural horror Strange Embrace is given the deluxe graphic novel treatment courtesy of the Sequential iPad app, but can this comprehensive digital edition offer something that previous collections can’t?
David Hine’s Strange Embrace was first published in 1993 at a time when bizarre black and white horror tales weren’t as in vogue as large breasted X-Women with ‘broken backs’ and big guns. Released via Atomeka Press, who closed with the publication of the final issue, Hine’s series was a true labour of love as he took a year out to work on it without the distraction/interference of editors or publishers. The result was a singular unfettered vision of his dark and mysterious story that has become a cult favourite and critical hit over the past 20 years.
It’s relative failure upon release saw Hine step away from the industry for several years, but Strange Embrace would get a welcome rediscovery in the early 2000s thanks to former Marvel UK editor (and Comicraft ‘chief tiger’) Richard Starkings who republished it via his Active Images imprint which would bring it to the attention of Image Comics (who would release yet another version of it) as well as Marvel Editor in Chief Joe Quesada who brought Hine into the fold of mainstream comics, where he was worked on big name titles for Marvel and DC ever since.
All of which brings us to this latest version of Hine’s macabre masterpiece as Strange Embrace is now given the deluxe digital graphic novel treatment courtesy of the Sequential team. Restored to it’s original black and white, with a voiceover track by Hine himself describing the events on virtually every page, we doubt there is a more comprehensive way to look back at this darkly brilliant book. With a in-depth interview and academic analysis at the back, along with character sketches, cover artwork and more this is an essential purchase for long time fans as it features more in-depth analysis of Hine’s methodology and thought process than you could ever wish for.
For those who are new to the story, the level of detail is not off-putting though and merely provides a singular point of discovery for this wonderfully macabre tale. The story begins with young Asian shopkeeper’s son Sukumar, sent to deliver groceries to the mysterious Corbeau house, whereupon he encounters the diabolical Alex and his sinister collection of stories and ghostly companions. As Alex tells the story of how he came to be living in the Corbeau house and how his psychic powers led to his dark past we are firmly in the realm of supernatural horror, evoking the likes of Stephen King or Clive Barker. However as the reader moves into chapter 2 of this 4 chapter books, the genre shifts to that of classic gothic horror like Shelley or Du Maurier as we begin to learn more about the mysterious Mr Corbeau, his doomed family and his collection of demonic masks.
The story of Corbeau’s family is then told from varying perspectives as we discover more about the tragedy of his loveless marriage and his obsession with the supernatural world of his demonic masks. It’s a twisting, complex tale of sexual repression and Edwardian spiritualism that reads more like a novel than a comic (and so rightly deserves it’s description of a ‘graphic novel’). Hine’s sharp angular artwork evolves and develops throughout the book, moving from detailed etching to stark abstracts that resemble medieval woodcuts at times giving the whole book a strong visual identity. Influenced by European artists, rather than the US mainstream, Hine’s work often reminded us of Kevin O’Neill’s work on Nemesis The Warlock, particularly in the portrayal of lead character Alex who gets more sharply featured and more demonic throughout the book.
Although horrific in tone, it is rarely gory or sensationalist, which makes the whole thing even more disturbing. Juxtaposed against the prim and proper Edwardian world of the Corbeaus are the constant images of demonic tribal masks and sadistic rituals, which again evoke memories of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser and Books of Blood (as anything involving multination with nails inevitably does!) With Strange Embrace back to it’s original in black and white we get to revel in Hine’s expert use of light and shadow which gives the book a truly haunting feel, and which would not work half as well if colorised.
Strange Embrace is a brilliantly crafted, highly sophisticated horror story that plays with it’s genres and themes expertly. This new edition is about as complete a retrospective as you could ever hope for, but is not so in-depth as to alienate new readers. With a [relatively] high-end price tag, it’s not cheap, but what you get for the price is truly remarkable and worth every penny.