By: Jeff Lemire (writer), Travel Foreman (artist), Lovern Kindzierski (colorist)

The Story: It’ll take a hardy stomach not to go vegan after this.

The Review: Horror is a tricky thing to create.  While we all know how unsettling the foreign and bizarre can be, it takes something more to elevate them to concepts that frighten us.  Often, that necessary element comes from mixing the unnatural with the natural, the strange with the familiar.  When we confront a thing we think we understand, we have a measure of control.  When our understanding proves fallible, we become vulnerable, and that’s frightening.

Here, our villains—although the term feels too commonplace to describe the malevolent forces in question—make a game of hiding within hosts, but they do it so carelessly that it offers no comfort to us or to the characters in the issue.  Their human form serves as a mere skin, a poor, shrunken costume that these creatures quickly outgrow, their monstrous limbs squeezing and tearing out of any opening available.  The only possible reaction is to recoil in disgust and terror.

This Ellen does very convincingly, though Cliff doesn’t seem to grasp the gravity of the situation (“That was awesome!”).  After all, these creatures are called the Hunters Three, and you don’t earn that title without some serious tracking skills, so no matter where mother and son go, their pursuer won’t be long behind.  Without any apparent super-powers at their disposal, they’ll be at the Hunter’s mercy when he catches up to them, so you have another rich vein of suspense there.

Meanwhile, Buddy has his hands full just dealing with the revelations about his daughter and his true place in the Red’s hierarchy.  For all the abilities he possesses, he is meant to be little more than a bodyguard for the Red’s true avatar.  Even at its strongest, there’s been an inherently limited (and slightly goofy) quality to Buddy’s powers.  It stands to reason that channeling the strength of a lion or gorilla won’t impress the personified abstractions of a “rot.”

And surely you can guess who the real powerhouse of the Red turns out to be.  While previous issues gave Maxine an almost sinister aura (animating the cadavers of animals will do that), the threat to her family reverts her back to a scared little girl we can sympathize with.  Even though the Totems call her the Red’s latest “epitome,” and in spite of the abilities she’s already shown, you’re left with no clue how she’s expected to face the enemies slapping her daddy around.  The Totems offer no help: “Our days of fighting are over…yours are just beginning.”

It seems too early at this point to cast the Hunters Three as “boss” characters, which implies they only serve as heralds for even worse, even more destructive entities.  With Buddy proving not very effective against these agents, and Maxine still raw in her role as the Red’s savior, Lemire has the opportunity to either expand the boundaries of Buddy’s power set or bring in characters that will serve as allies (provided they survive, unlike the short-lived Detective Krenshaw).

There are no words to describe how invaluable Foreman’s art has become to this title.  Your own nightmares have a run for their money in the monstrous shapes he conceives for the Hunters.  It’s not just their queasy body composition of muscle tissue, digestive organs, and animal limbs; it’s the haphazard way these parts are put together, or maybe it’s more accurate to say the way each part is purposely placed to induce the most gut-wrenching reaction out of you.  Kudos also to his designs for the Totems, which look truly weird and horrifying, yet have a strangely comforting symmetry at the same time.

Conclusion: Like any good work of horror, it keeps you gripped the whole time you’re in it, dreading and anticipating when things will take a turn for the even worse.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Let’s hope the disfiguring side-effects that accompany Buddy’s power-use aren’t permanent.  That’ll make maintaining his public image a lot harder.  Not to mention getting movie roles.

– I’ve always wondered why so many bishōjo works creep me out, and now I can say for sure: it’s the unnaturally wide eyes.  The “black” Hunter says it all.

– Let this be a lesson to you, Ellen: always check before you open the door.