Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Sickness in the Family

I've been interested in the Vertigo Crime graphic novels since they launched. The initial offering, Dark Entries, which featured John Constantine, wasn't the book that got me excited.  It was the second offering, Filthy Rich, by Brian Azzarello that really got me hooked.

I've been collecting ever since.

Which brings us to this week's comic focus is the Vertigo Crime graphic novel A Sickness in the Family by Denise Mina and Antonio Fuso.  

A Sickness in the Family has two strikes against it.  First off, it's set in the U.K.  Imports can be tricky, especially when you're dealing with brand new characters.  The second is that Denise Mina's run on Hellblazer didn't really impress me all that much.

The story begins with the reader meeting Sam.  He talks about someone dying and about a trial.  Right off the bad you know things aren't going to end well.

Then we meet Darota and get a peek into her mundane existence before we meet her neighbors the Ushers.  Ted and Biddy and their children William, Amy and adopted son Sam.  Biddy's mother Martha also lives with them.  It's a wonderful portrait of a family.  Except that the Usher's are as dysfunctional as they come.

No one is happy and nearly everyone resents each other.  Biddy and Ted have grown apart.  Amy desperately want to make a name for herself, with her parents money.  William is a disappointment in nearly every regard.  And Sam is adopted.  And we find most of this out over dinner.

Once Darota and her husband kill each other in a domestic disturbance, complete with a warning scrawled in blood on the wall, things turn far creepier. Ted decides to invest all of his money into the house, so that it will increase in value.  The result of which is literally a gaping hole in the middle of the house.

Martha falls through the hole, under suspicious circumstances and become an invalid.  The family begins to wonder if she fell or was pushed.  Ted tries his best to hold the family together, despite every indication that it should be dissolved.

From there tensions flare and nerves are exposed.  We learn which sibling has a drug habit and which parent is cheating.  We also learn why Sam was adopted.

Then family members start dying.  Sam suspects the occult.  The police suspect someone within the family.  When it's all over only two family members are still alive and we get an answer to the question "why."

Mina does a great job of mining the horror of the mundane.  Nothing that occurs in A Sickness in the Family is really out of the ordinary.  It's all just normal family stuff, but Mina unveils things in such a way that she really builds to a suspenseful final act.  The book starts slow, but the ending is extremely satisfying.

Fuso's art is spectacular.  It's a black and white book but Fuso's art really pops off the page.  It's so detailed and the backgrounds are terifically rendered.  And in a book that's full of emotion, Fuso conveys every singe one in such pitch perfect detail.  It's a marvel to read.  And Clem Robin's letting is flawless.

A Sickness in the Family doesn't grab you immediately out of the gate, it's certainly a slow burn.  But once that fire gets started the book quickly becomes a page turner. It's scary with some moments of true heartbreak.

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