REVIEW: The School of the Damned #2

A while back, I wrote a very positive review of The School of the Damned #1, a horror comic from Glasgow-based independent comic publisher Black Hearted Press.  That opening chapter set up a delicious “monsters VS Nazis” setup, payimg homage to classic 1930s horror cinema in the process.  Now we have issue #2, which expands the world of the story and delves deeper into the dynamics of our ensemble.

As was the case with the first issue, The School of the Damned #2 makes a great first impression with a cracking front cover.  While the first issue’s cover paid homage to the iconic cover of House of Mystery #174, issue #2 features a similarly clever pastiche of House of Secrets #92, famously the first appearance of Swamp Thing.  I’m keen to see what other hallmarks of horror comic history get nods in future issues!

Sadly, James Devlin – whose work so impressed with the first issue – is absent here, and the visuals of replacement artist Jason Mathis aren’t quite as stylish.  However, Mathis is a highly competent artist in his own right.  He seems to struggle with women’s faces on a couple of occasions, but aside from that, his linework is moody and atmospheric, and Mathis successfully crams a lot of detail into the smaller panels of what are often 8 or 9 panel pages.  He should prove to be a good fit for the series moving forward.

But the real pleasure here comes from John Farman’s developing narrative.  The aforementioned “monsters VS zombies” aspect of the plot is still very much active, but it is relegated to the sidelines, something whose next stage is looming ominously ahead.  Instead, while the previous issue introduced our characters in action, with more of a “show don’t tell” approach to what each character brings to the group, here we really dig into how the characters interact and play off each other, and get a more substantial sense of their personalities.

The best realised of the bunch is Jenny, the created “daughter” of Victor Frankenstein, whose struggles with humanity and the concept of love make her a sympathetic, emotionally engaging figure.  But other enjoyable figures include the petulant Moloch – who here comes across as an aged, world-weary cynic in a child’s body – and group leader Count Orlok, who Farman reinvents as a noble, heroic figure haunted by loss.

As was the case with the first issue, we’re once again treated to a short backup story, this time drawn by David Braysher.  I like Braysher’s style.  The House of Secrets homage cover is perhaps quite appropriate, as this backup has something of a Bernie Wrightson vibe to it.  The story itself is suitably poignant, with an understated yet powerful closing page.

It’s a continued pleasure to see Glasgow produce such high-quality comics as The School of the Damned.  And the success for this series seems set to continue, with recent news that the film rights have been optioned.  This is a series you may very well be hearing much more of in future!

The School of the Damned #2 is on-sale now in Glasgow comic shops, and available to buy online at Cult Empre.

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