Written by James Tynion IV. Art by Werther Dell’Edera. Coloured by Miguel Muerto. Lettered by Andworld Design. Published by Boom Studios.
As children, we are all haunted by our own monsters – the Boogeymen hidden in the darkness of our closets and beneath our beds. As we age, those fears never really go away, always lurking at the back of our minds. Horror comics that access this primal, deep-seated fear tend to be the ones that stand out in our memories, and in Something is Killing the Children, the Eisner award winning team of James Tynion IV, Werther Dell’Edera, and Miguel Muerto brings these imagined childhood fears to life.
In the small Wisconsin town of Archer’s Peak, 25 children have gone missing. Those that have been found have died brutal, bloody deaths, with some under strange and seemingly alien circumstances. The town lives under a fog of fear and grief. The police are baffled. But before long, a stranger rolls into town.
The blond, green eyed woman that steps off of the bus is none other than Erica Slaughter, a member of the House of Slaughter. The Chicago branch of the Order of St. George, the House of Slaughter exists for two reasons: to kill monsters and to keep their existence a secret. Erica’s mission in Archer’s Peak brings her face to face with the horrors that plague this small town and puts her at odds with the local police and grieving family members. Before she is done, more will die beneath the ripping claws and gnashing teeth of the monsters known as Oscuratype, and as the town spirals into chaos, the full force of the Order of St. George will fall on Archer’s Peak.
Something is Killing The Children was originally slated as a five issue miniseries. However, the positive feedback the story received not only allowed Tynion to continue writing and exploring Erica’s story with an indefinite series run. It also allowed the writer to explore new areas of his world in The House of Slaughter, a spin-off series that follows various members of the titular monster hunting house.
James Tynion IV has made his name as a modern day master of horror comic writing. Though his work includes many different genres, his time exploring the darkness cannot be overlooked in stories like The Department of Truth and The Nice House on the Lake. Tynion knows what scares people, but more than that, he knows that the horror genre only works when focused on the humans involved in the story.
Something is Killing the Children succeeds not only as a truly terrifying narrative but also as an exploration of grief and trauma. Erica wasn’t born a monster hunter. She watched her parents and best friend torn apart by a monster, leaving her mentally scarred long before she ever received any physical scars from her years of monster hunting. Until the reader learns this information, Erica actually seems very cold. She is methodical in her conversations, strategic, focused solely on her mission. At first, she seems like the perfect monster hunter. The reader can sense that she has done this before a hundred times in a hundred different towns.
As the story progresses, though, we begin to understand that she isn’t self-assured; she’s terrified. While the House of Slaughter seems more concerned with covering up the existence of monsters, she is hunting the creatures down so that no child has to experience what she did. Every child lost is a personal failure to her. This characterization isn’t unusual for this type of story, but Tynion does an excellent job of making Erica and the rest of the members of her House live with their traumas.
With trauma as the backbone of this story, we are introduced to a fascinating bit of worldbuilding. Each of the members of the House of Slaughter carry with them a small stuffed animal. Each of these toys is bonded with the souls of the monsters that haunted each of the Order’s individual members as children. These characters literally carry their traumas with them at every step, using them as guides and monster encyclopedias. It’s a thrilling discussion of trauma, showcasing how it binds itself to a person. These Totems represent the way that the horrors we experience in life never really leave us. As is the case with the Order though, it is only by embracing and working with the traumas that we can overcome their negative effects and use them to strengthen ourselves.
Werther Dell’Edera creates a realistic world in his art. Gritty, bloody (colorist Miguel Muerto uses a lot, A LOT, of red), but grounded in small town realism. The characters of Archer’s Peak step out of the real world and into Dell’Edera’s dark, inked reality. But when it comes to the members of the Order of St. George, they all have an element of ridiculousness to them. The stuffed animals are one thing, stitched up and almost goofy in context, but even the character designs of the Order stand out as bizarre in this world. They are wearing white kimonos and schoolgirl outfits, carrying golden canes and metal masks, and peering at the world with bright red and gold eyes. Where most of Archer’s Peak takes their designs from typical Americana, the Order seems to have stockpiled clothes and color schemes from Saturday morning cartoons and manga. Even Erica, who is the least ridiculously dressed, stands out in town with her huge green coat and massive neon green eyes; characters mention several times “the girl with the creepy eyes,” showing how little she fits into the real world.
This design choice speaks to the fact that these people don’t belong in our world. They are bound to the darkness. And let’s talk about this darkness, i.e. Dell’Edera’s monster designs. They have recognizable forms: spider legs, humanoid bodies, claws, teeth, etc. But the way Dell’Edera and Muerto render these creatures as beings of pure blackness, of shadows, with only a few glowing spots to communicate what these beasts are: representations of childhood fears. While Tynion does an incredible job building the story that is missing children and monster hunting, the artists have showcased our worst fears: as amorphous, semi-solid blobs of malice, exactly like we imagined them as kids.
Talking about the art, I want to mention one last thing: I need a John Wick comic illustrated by Werther Dell’Edera. This artist knows how to illustrate an action sequence. Every page that Dell’Edera illustrates is cinematic; most panels feel like a storyboard for a summer blockbuster, and he isn’t afraid to use a two page spread to give these panels a “widescreen” movie feel. But when he sends Erica into battle? The action is pristine, the choreography feeling realistic and heavy. You can feel the impact of each blow, the physical power of both monster and hunter, in the flow of combat and the panel compositions. Erica fights like a cat, with several dynamic and gymnastic poses used; meanwhile, the monsters loom, often taking up entire panels. This composition shows us the stakes of the fight, how little chance Erica actually has, so each victory is earned. Where some comic artists only suggest a fight with a big punch, Dell’Edera lets readers see every brutal, bloody hit. He doesn’t shy away from the carnage, and given the subject matter, the comic benefits from it.
Something is Killing the Children has earned its Eisner and Ringo Awards. With its compelling plot, vivid characters, and over-the-top action, this comic is one of the best horror stories in the medium. The way James Tynion IV, Werther Dell’Edera and Miguel Muerto capture our worst childhood fears and transplant them onto the page is both terrifying and awe-inspiring. Beyond its horror and action, though, Something is Killing the Children recognizes that the best stories in the genre are the ones that explore the depths of the human experience, and the themes of the impacts of grief and trauma are at the heart of this series. With plenty more issues to come, now is the perfect time to dive into the darkness within this incredible story.