Publisher: Alterna Comics
Writers: Cody Sousa and Dan Sheppard
Artist: Cecilia Lo Valvo
Cover: Cecilia Lo Valvo
Colors: Dee Cunniffe
Letters: Dezi Sienty
Reviewer: Steve Sellers
Although I wasn’t familiar with this creative team or their previous work, Sonitus looked intriguing enough from a distance. Alterna has produced a strong line of comics from the work I’ve so far examined, dipping into some compelling genre choices along the way. My real hope with Sonitus coming in was that it would hold up well to the high standard that Alterna’s line has already set.
The first issue of this series presents a simple but effective premise. A young man is afflicted with a condition where he hears sounds that don’t exist. He then returns to the cabin where he spent time during his childhood as a way of confronting his old fears. While very much a standard setup, it’s the subtle additions that make the old tropes new again.
Thus far, Sonitus presents us with a great start with what looks to be a promising new horror comic.
This issue’s cover sets the tone for the comic with a single striking image. One of the interesting things about this cover is that it’s not entirely clear whether what we’re seeing is a burning house or a house that’s been struck by direct sunlight. The kinetic lines presented by the artist suggest either as a possibility, and that compels me to turn the page. The coloring, presumably done by Dee Cunniffe, manages to hit that note of creepy atmosphere without relying too much on the basic black. The use of deep crimson against the shadow effects create the proper feeling of dread about this house. Even without the text, it’s apparent that this house should be feared, even if we don’t know why at this point. The text provides a solid tagline, but I’m not certain it’s even necessary, because the image is so effective that it makes the point without words. All in all, it’s a stylish cover image that succeeds in grabbing the reader’s interest.
Cecilia Lo Valvo’s work makes an immediate impact on me as I read through these pages. One of her real strengths is a good sense of visual storytelling, which becomes all the more apparent as the tension builds in this comic. The panels have real flow between them as the eye moves, and there are no points where I had to stop and reflect on what just happened. The layouts are fantastic, using a variety of different spreads and always with just the right camera angle. Because of this, Lo Valvo gives the reader just the perfect view of this ruined house, creating a larger picture of the setting through different shots and perspectives. Even when the action builds, we get a sense of where things are from Ben’s point of view, and the location contributes to the atmosphere.
The other elements that Lo Valvo thrives in lie in motion and the use of negative space, both of which make her work a natural for a horror title. Looking through these pages, much of what we see inside the house is shown in darkness, leaving things suggested or implied. We often see only the vague outlines of things in the dark, hinting at things we don’t actually see. It’s a good technique for creating detail, and it works well here. There is a scratchiness to the figure work, but that helps the art here, making the place look even creepier. Likewise, the action scenes are well conveyed through effective poses as well as the use of kinetic lines in the big action scenes. There is a visible tension and weight as Ben struggles to escape the evil thing he sees, and this plays to the book’s favor.
If there is a genre where good coloring is absolutely essential, it is horror. The colors create tone and mood, and a good page should be able to provide just the right atmosphere with shadow and lighting. Dee Cunniffe provides more than capable work here, adding just the right accents on some well-inked pages. The lighting as Ben walks into the cabin suggests a fading of hope, with the daylight dimming as he approaches. The interior scenes are grim and do a good job of showing the desolation of the place through cold tones and shadow effects. At the same time, the colors also highlight Ben as a stranger here by making him the brightest thing we see on these pages. This creates just the right contrast between our normal viewpoint character and the things of darkness that he encounters inside the house. The coloring in this issue is exactly the sort of quality I expect to see from a good horror comic, and I’m looking forward to more.
The lettering this issue comes courtesy of Dezi Sienty, who maintains a good, quiet presence on these pages. Though this is an issue that is relatively light on captions and dialogue, he still succeeds at making them clear without overshadowing the beautiful artwork in this issue. The caption boxes present the impression of Ben writing some sort of note, possibly his last note, through the choice of shape. However, the lettering truly shines through the sound effects, which help to establish the tension and the dread in this comic. The fonts are hard-hitting on the page and add to the strength of the movement we see in the panels. When a door slams, the reader can feel it visually because the font implies power through sharp lines. However, the lettering also makes the wise decision to use black lettering with yellow borders for certain effects, which clicks well with the interior panels. Sienty is a good, solid letterer, and he deserves acknowledgement for his work in these pages.
Cody Sousa and Dan Sheppard introduce us to the world of Sonitus, and they do an excellent job of introducing this series. One of the points that I respect this script for is how hands-off it is when it comes to putting words on the page. There are many panels where the writers wisely make the decision to say more with less as Ben wanders through the evil house. This shows both a good grasp of comics scriptwriting and a strong vote of confidence in the art team to tell the story visually. However, it’s also a good decision because any text would only dampen the atmosphere created by Lo Valvo’s intense visual storytelling. In some of these pages, there is literally nothing for the writers to say, as the clues about the nature of the house are given through the visual depiction of the house.
On the surface, the “cabin in the woods” trope is so well recognized in horror that it’s become a cliché. However, the writers manage to turn it in a different way, presenting it as the story of a young man who’s returned to face his childhood fears. He’s also looking for enlightenment and a connection to his lost childhood. This gives him a logical reason to go into the house, and why he’s involved in these events where most people would choose to stay away. This also makes Ben a useful companion to view the story through, and he’s a good audience viewpoint character in this issue.
Additionally, I always appreciate a horror story that doesn’t rely on jump scares to sell the horror, instead presenting a more psychological form of horror. In a sense, we are seeing these events as Ben sees them, and we can’t be entirely sure if his viewpoint is reliable. Because he suffers from sonitus, we don’t know if what he hears is something real, or if all of this is in his mind. The script doesn’t give us these answers, leaving us to piece together how much is reality, how much is Ben’s memory, and how much is his own psychological issues. This story doesn’t hand-hold the reader, but it tells a clear story that gives the reader much to interpret. This is the mark of quality graphic storytelling, and I hope to see more of this in the coming issues.
If you’re interested in a well-crafted horror title, Sonitus is an excellent choice. Though this is a first issue, this is a creative team that understands how to create fear and tension in the reader, and that is always appreciated. I almost regret that this title is only three issues, because if the remaining two are this solid, I may regret that it’ll be over too soon.
Anyone who’s still on the fence about this title should consider giving it at least a try, because it holds up rather nicely among Alterna’s excellent selection. Given that Alterna’s price point is always reader-friendly, there is no reason not to pick this up if you’re curious. To be honest, I would probably recommend this even at a higher price, because this issue was just that enjoyable for me. As a result, I would give Sonitus an impressed and satisfied 9/10. So long as we keep getting issues like this, I look forward to seeing what else this creative team has in store.
Written By Steve Sellers
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