From the paneled pictures of your darkest dreams, this is Graphic. Every month, I’ll be telling you about the best horror in comic books, from the early days of EC Comics to the resurgence of the genre in today’s mainstream and indie publishers. So pull up your blanket, dear reader, switch on your flashlight, and turn the page…
“Horror can be a comfort,” writes Ryan Cady in the back of the first volume of Infinite Dark. That might seem a little strange to say about any horror story, but especially one set after the heat death of our universe. Heat death, for the scientifically illiterate such as myself, is a term for what we may oversimplify as “the end.” It is the literal stopping point of reality, when the atomic structure of everything in existence pulls so far apart that all atomic reactions cease, grinding time itself to a cold, eternal halt. So what about a story that deals with this cruel, all-too-true facet of our universe can be comforting?
Infinite Dark is the story of the Orpheus, a space station holding the remains of the human race post-heat death. Protected by a “pseudoreality field,” the Orpheus floats in what used to be outer space, protecting its population of some two thousand people from the void outside. But for all the safety its shields provide, even the most advanced craft can’t protect against human nature. For the first time since heat death, a murder has been committed aboard the Orpheus. It’s up to security director Deva Karrel to solve it, and, perhaps more importantly, decipher the cryptic runes written in the victim’s blood…
We’ll return to the story in a moment, but first, Infinite Dark would not have the impact it does without its phenomenal art team. Establishing the reality of the Orpheus is artist Andrea Mutti, who depicts a human civilization that is both highly advanced and on the brink of collapse. Colorist K. Michael Russel establishes the mood of the series, creating a sense of tension and lurking doom just as much as inciting murder of the story does. Finally, letterer Troy Peteri provides speech for the folks on the Orpheus, including the robotically-voiced AI SM1TH and for some characters in the series that, without spoiling too much, might not exactly be human.
“[…] what about a story that deals with this cruel, all-too-true facet of our universe can be comforting?”
Serving this artwork perfectly is writer Cady’s story of betrayal, belief, and of course, utter terror. I won’t lie to you; I checked out Infinite Dark because of this month’s NOFS theme, No One Can Hear You Scream. But what I discovered was a horror fan’s horror story, a tale to please any friend of Stephen King, Goosebumps or, if you’re like me, EC Comics. Like so many great horror stories, Infinite Dark uses the familiar setting of a post-apocalyptic society. But unlike so many post-apocalyptic horrors, it doesn’t stop there.
Infinite Dark is post-post-apocalypse, set at a time when humanity has weathered the end and restructured itself, even though it’s on a much smaller scale. The threats that we get from the usual dystopian futures are still there, but with entirely different stakes. Whereas most post-apocalyptic stories focus on the survival of an individual or group of individuals, Infinite Dark asks whether or not we, as a species, could last after a cataclysmic, universe-ending event. And it’s here that we find the horror of this series.
The terrible reality of Infinite Dark is that the Orpheus is the best humanity can do. Even if Deva Karell solves the murder, deciphers the runes, and brings justice to whoever (or WHATever committed the crime), she’ll still be stuck on a measly ship floating in the infinite void. Just like Deva, we the readers are haunted by what we can’t control; a wide universe that doesn’t care about us. No matter what we do as individuals, as a culture, or as a species, heat death is out there. It is patient and it is hungry, and it wins in the end. But still, there’s another element of Infinite Dark that might resonate even more with horror fans. That is, that this story is not about winning.
I’m no horror expert, but I’d be willing to bet that’s the major difference in a horror protagonist’s goal as opposed to the protagonist of any other genre. In your superhero movies, your detective novels, your sci-fi video games, the goal of the heroes is generally to defeat an external threat, to win. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of great horror stories in which that’s the case too, but so often we’re rooting for a protagonist just to make it out alive. The goal of Deva Karrel, and the rest of the Orpheus, is making it out alive. It’s about just surviving, day by day, little by little, even though they can see the encroaching darkness.
“[…] so often we’re rooting for a protagonist just to make it out alive.”
In this way, Infinite Dark doesn’t just prove itself to be a solid horror story, it speaks to why horror is so relatable to its fans, why it provides the comfort that Cady writes about. Things like action movies are comforting hero fantasies in their own way, but some days, it’s hard to relate to those heroes. Try as we might, it’s hard to see ourselves as Wonder Woman when we feel so weak, Sherlock Holmes when we feel so dumb, Lara Croft when we feel so…well, uncool. On those days, it’s much easier to connect with a hero who’s just trying to survive. Because on those days, survival is enough.
Have you read Top Cow Production & Image Comic’s Infinite Dark? If not, both volumes are currently available on ComiXology, you should really check them out. If you have read it, give us your thoughts on our Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook pages. Then, maybe drop me a line to let me know which other horror comics you’d like see talked about in this column. Finally, we’ve got a whole month of Space-Based horror coming at you, so point those telescopes at the sky, put on your tinfoil hats, and keep lurking at Nightmare on Film Street.