by Matt Wagner (writer), Laurenn McCubbin (art & colors), and Jared K. Fletcher (letters)

The Story: A 1960s ad-man starts to hear the people around him say horrible, horrible things.

What’s Good: What a downright creepy and generally unsettling story…  I’m beginning to get the sense that Extra-Sensory is more a horror arc than anything else, and this month’s offering is far more disturbing than last month’s, which already had its grisly moments.  This month’s issues focuses on hearing and, indeed, the things protagonist Spencer Wilkins thinks he hears are really vile; I was quite honestly shocked at how little Wagner held back.  This imagined dialogue is appalling and, Vertigo or not, there are a couple places where Wagner definitely pushes the envelope, often in creative fashion.

But it’s not just the sheer vulgarity and graphic content of this imagined speech that makes the comic disturbing.  There’s a sense of “wrongness” that dogs the issue throughout.  It’s not just these malevolent little imagined speech bubbles either, though they do interrupt and disrupt not just Spencer’s life, but the comic as well.  It’s also the narration.

And boy, is that narration creepy as hell.  Early on, though the narrator seems purely of the omniscient, personality-less sort, it shows little suggestions of sentience.  These little signs grow and grow until the narration, and the narrator, takes on a life of its own in reaction a sudden plot twist that I won’t spoil.  Suddenly the narrator is as much in communication with Spencer as us.  Not only does this bring us closer to the story, it also brings this demonic presence a lot closer to the reader.  The result is an experience that is skin-crawling.

Wagner traps us in his tormented protagonist’s mind, alongside its chattering voice/narrator, and we ultimately find that this leaves us a world that’s horribly twisted and confined and, for a horror story, that’s a definitely a good thing.   Best of all, though, is how Wagner isn’t intent on following a set formula for these one-shots;  if you thought every comic would end with Madame Xanadu helping to bring a happy ending, prepare to be surprised.

What’s Not So Good: When you have a different artist on every issue, it’s impossible to win them all.  Eventually, you’re going to get a stinker.  Unfortunately, Laurenn McCubbin’s artwork is that stinker.  I honestly struggle to find a single good thing to say about it, and ultimately, I think it severely impacts the quality of this issue, which is tragic given how solid the story is.

Character faces, for instance, are incredibly weak.  They lack detail and the expressions feel perpetually automaton.  The characters lack any form of humanity, feeling completely robotic.  Worse still, they are placed in front of backgrounds that are flat and lifeless.  Nothing has any real nuance, subtlety, or depth.  Rather, everything feels weirdly dull and lifeless.

Frankly, McCubbin’s art reminds me of computer clip art, the sort of bland, character-less work you’d get on CD-Roms and use for presentations/birthday cards/calendars.  It’s that bad.  Whatever the case, this is certainly not the sort of work I’d expect to see in a major comic.

Conclusion: A great story is hamstrung by terrible art.

Grade: C

-Alex Evans