By Zack Quaintance — The Plot #1 is the newest comic from Vault, the industry’s most exciting indie publisher right now, and, like many a Vault book before it, The Plot #1 raises some heretofore unseen bar for what the publisher’s line can and will be. Put simply, this is a strong and smart comic, as immersive as it is hyper-focused in the family drama and horror motifs that define its scope. I absolutely loved it, and, as such, this review will be spent mostly explaining why this comic is so damn good.
First, the basics about The Plot. This is a horror comic about murder and ancestral homes and vast bogs containing murky family secrets. It’s the first in a new line of books from Vault called Nightfall, a project that plans to launch new horror stores each year between September and December, giving readers a different sort of chill as summer gives way to fall gives way to winter. The Plot is the first of Vault’s autumnal terrors, and it’s one hell of a way to launch a new line.
Why? Let’s start with co-writers Tim Daniel and Michael Moreci. Moreci and Daniel’s script takes a less-is-more approach to the family dynamics at work in this story, and it works wonders for both the pacing and the emotional impact. For example, rather than copious flashbacks of what transpired between our protagonist and his brother over the years, we get an understated moment in which the older brother struggles to concentrate on his own ornate birthday celebration because his brother a world away won’t pick up a phone. Soon after we get a quick four-panel sequence at the bottom of a page in which the younger brother displays understanding of what his brother wanted from him along with regret that he couldn’t deliver. Completing this master stroke of development is a single panel in which the older brother’s daughter looks dismissively at her uncle and notes, “...Uncle Chase probably needs our help more than we need his.”
It’s powerful and subtle stuff that gives the audience credit. This type of smart and trusting character work is present throughout, and it’s all fantastic. It also speaks to what I found to be the biggest strength of this comic—The Plot #1 is a story told aggressively in the now, alluding to the past but keeping the reader grounded always in the present. There are no disorienting jumps through time. I had a writing teacher who often said that if a story is interesting enough to be told, it can be told in a linear fashion—start to finish—without using chronological mixups to mask its boring moments. Those chronological mixup can be found in so sooo many modern comics—good and bad—but not in The Plot. The Plot #1 is confident and engaging, giving us all the info we need while pushing always forward. It orients us as readers and trusts us to hold on as we plunge together into its horrors, which are unspooled excellent by its art.
Joshua Hixson’s savage linework is as forceful as it is precise, giving us clarity in the most violent moments that really enhances the danger and scares. For a younger artist, he’s also remarkably adept at where he puts the camera, so to speak, making ample and effective use of establishing shots—ranging from a po-mo beachside villa at night to an overview of a winding coastal highway through a forest—that really up in the horror ambience. That word, ambience, is a tricky one for all horror comics, deprived as they are of the music and jump scares that make it an easier lift in film, but Hixson pulls it off well with the unique tools the medium puts at his disposal, a big part of the reason for that being the colorist. Jordan Boyd’s color pallete is flawless, be it for the murky hues in the ominous scenes when threats find our characters, or for the washed out sunset shades that are so inherent daytime in the Bay Area. Boyd’s work shines in not just his selection of colors but in how appropriate they are for the tones.
I could go on about the visuals here, which start as understated as the characterization before ramping up as our story careens to its excellent first chapter cliffhanger. The whole affair is also enhanced by letterer Jim Campbell, who is also asked to tap into a deep well of versatility. And he does, with typefaces that convey everything from usual dialogue and sound effects, to the contents of a telegraph, to the terrifying words of a creature from the paranormal.
Overall: The Plot #1 is the single best horror comic debut of 2019, and probably the best launch of a new terror series since Gideon Falls. It’s a smart and confident story that relies on its characters as much as the supernatural. It’s another smash hit in the making from Vault. 10/10
The Plot #1
Writers: Tim Daniel and Michael Moreci
Artist: Joshua Hixson
Colorist: Jordan Boyd
Letterer: Jim Campbell
Publisher: Vault Comics
Release Date: September 25, 2019
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Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as Comics Bookcase.