If one were to ask any comic fan the following question: “Name a pulp-noir monster hero that combined suspense and hard-boiled action with a distinct artistic style?”, the vast majority of fans would quickly answer with the name “Hellboy”. While this answer is undoubtedly true, there was a team of “monster-men” who debuted around the same time as “Big Red” who would also fit this description to a tee: Dan Brereton’s Nocturnals.
Originally published by Malibu Comics’ creator-owned Bravura imprint in 1995, The Nocturnals was like a delicious Halloween treat for fans of Universal Monsters, pulp-era detective stories, and film noir. Made even more unique by the beautifully painted art of Dan Brereton, the Nocturnals made an impression on many a discerning fan in a decade that was infamously known for trading cards, holofoil covers, and the great comic book crash which forced more than half of the comic book stores in America to close their doors.
Following their auspicious debut mini-series (entitled Black Planet), the characters meandered to a number of publishers including Dark Horse, Oni, and Image while Brereton earned even more attention with comic projects like Batman and Robin: Thrillkiller, Superman: Silver Banshee, and album cover and interior artwork for Rob Zombie. Despite all of the varied work that Brereton would engage in, he never forgot about his beloved monster family, and the Nocturnals found a way to live on…through crowd-funding. Brereton’s Kickstarter campaign for The Sinister Path was a huge success, more than doubling the funding goal of $30,000. The artist has had an enormous amount of success with this method of financing and production, managing to fund the publication of a number of art collections (including the upcoming In the Night Studio collection) as well.
Nocturnals: the Sinister Path picks up directly after 2008’s Carnival of Beasts, and although there were some details that I didn’t recall about the plot and characters after such a long hiatus, the straight-forward story-telling (and helpful character profiles at the start of the book) throws the reader right back into the world of Doc Horror and his band of misfit monsters. The story opens up with an excerpt from Edgar Allen Poe’s poem “Alone”, effectively preparing the reader for the mood and melancholy monsters we will soon meet.
Everything seems pretty typical at the start of the story, or at least typical for a Nocturnals story; Doc is busy with arcane research, Halloween Girl (Eve) is playing with her “living dead dolls”, and the Gunwitch stoically stands guard over everyone. We also get to check in on the genetically engineered raccoon-man Bandit and the elusive”Queen of the Leviathans” Starfish, leaving only the the flammable synthetic samurai Firelion missing from the line-up (for the time being).
It seems that Doc Horror hasn’t been the only supernatural crusader in Pacific City, as he discovers the presence of the late Judge Xindle Hemlock. Soon enough, the group is of to investigate the Judge’s mansion and the valuable occult treasures inside. What starts out as typical mystery, quickly turns into a tale of parental neglect, as readers are introduced to two monstrous siblings that have a connection to the late Judge.
While the pulp-infused story was entertaining, the main attraction here is Brereton’s stunning artwork. His style is one of the most recognizable and distinctive in the comic book industry over the last 30 years and it is clear that the artist is showing no signs of slowing down with the effort put into this 100+ page graphic novel. Sinister Path delivers all of the images that any fan of Brereton’s artwork wants: ghostly figures, animated corpses, furry lycanthropes and beautifully, exotic creatures of the night. This is a book that you look through over and over again to fully savor all of the images. And while his monsters are truly glorious, the settings also pop out. The haunted house of Judge Hemlock captures all of the buried memories of readers with the attention to detail used to bring the house “to life” and Brereton never skimps on the cobwebs, statuary, or shadowy figures. There are also plenty of “easter eggs” that hardcore horror fans are sure to spot such as the Mecha-Kong toy that emerges from a chest of forgotten toys. Sinister Path, like all of his work, is a simple joy to behold and being a fan himself, it is clear that Brereton seeds his images with all of the aspects and reference points that horror aficionados can appreciate.
Brereton promises more Nocturnals stories in the future, and I hope we don’t have to wait as long next time!
Nocturnals: The Sinister Path is currently available at finer comic stores everywhere. A digital edition is also available from Image Comics on their website.