Twilight Zone: Shadow and Substance by Mark Rahner, Tom Peyer, and John Layman Illustrated by Edu Menna, Randy Valiente, Rod Rodolfo, Jose Malaga, and Colton Worley.
Twilight Zone: Shadow and Substance is a large (250 pages) collection of, well, new Twilight Zone stories in graphic form. Or maybe “newish” might be better, as several have deliberate (I’m assuming) echoes of classic Twilight Zone tale, and most have, at least in my mind, a bit of a retro feel to them. I’m not sure this element however is as intentional, leaving many of the stories feeling more than a little predictable and stale. I suppose, for those who don’t read often in the genre or for whom this collection is an introduction to the Twilight Zone “brand,” then perhaps issues of predictability or “’I’ve seen this premise before” won’t be such a problem.
A more pressing issue for these readers though is the brevity of each tale, which leaves little room, or for some stories any room, for character and/or story development. Because of this it’s difficult to feel fully engaged in any of the stories, it’s hard to feel any sort of emotional investment, and sometimes the narrative feels rushed at best and disjointed and abrupt at worst. In fact, for the most part I’d say the artwork in each is stronger than the text/narrative, with some nice use of panel structure and coloring. Having said that, the art is a bit of a mixed bag, with some cases where the illustration either felt flat, or was a bit confusing in terms of action and/or dialogue.
Normally, with a collection of multiple stories, I’d go through at least a few of my favorites, those that struck me most strongly. But unfortunately, none of the tales in the collection stood out for me, so I’m just going to detail a few to give a taste. As one might imagine therefore, given the difficulty of pulling out one or more strong stories, I’m not giving this one a recommend.
A note on authorship. The vast majority of stories were written by Mark Rahner, with Tom Peyer and John Layman each adding one. The illustrators for the various stories were Edu Menna, Randy Valiente, Rod Rodolfo, Jose Malaga, and Colton Worley.
William Gaunt, semi-successful author, heads back to his hometown for a book signing only to find himself back in the 70’s, just before his younger self faces a pivotal moment. The question of course is what will his older self do? It’s a pretty stock sort of story and to be honest, it reads that way as well. Gaunt’s reaction to his obviously quite odd situation is strangely muted and accepting, and his conversations/arguments with his girlfriend (he can still communicate via his cell phone to the present time) just don’t ring very true. Or at least, don’t feel earned. The ending therefore, which is the best part of the story, is somewhat diluted in impact by what comes before. The art stands as the stronger of the two elements of this graphic story, which good use of panel space, images, and especially color, as the two time periods are distinguished by the color palette, with the 70s cast in an (appropriate to the decades) yellow sort of tint.
A man named Lee ends up in what appears to be some sort of alien containment center with a group of other humans, all of whom have food and other items provided to them (though nothing that can aid in escape or hurt others). Is it a zoo, an experiment, a prisoner camp? The characters were pretty two-dimensional, with this reader at least wholly unengaged with any of them. As for the ending, I won’t spoil it, but will say that it was definitely not the strong point. Again, the artwork was for me better than the story, with the chaos nicely conveyed with broken up panels and the alien-ness by a blue tone throughout. My one issue was that sometimes it was difficult to connect all the dialogue or action.
Galt Randall is an arch-conservative, empathy-free senator who ends up in a Depression-era flophouse. The character and situation were too blunt for me, and the ending, if not predictable at the very start in specifics is in general, and then even in the specifics before the actual close.
“Not Faire” and “The Secret-Oversharer” have some of the same issues. Characters are rushed and two dimensional and the plots, or at least their underlying ideas, don’t feel particularly fresh. The art in these two was a bit more wanting than in the others I thought.
There’s more tension in this one than in others, both between characters and between ideas, making it one of the better ones in the collection. But again, it lacks a sense of originality and the ending feels wholly predictable.
In addition to the above, the collection includes: “Hangnail on a Monkey’s Paw,” “It’s All in How You Frame It,” “Laughing Matter, and “The Comics Code.”
It’s nice to see someone trying to keep Twilight Zone alive, and there’s no doubt that one can feel the authors striving for, and sometimes achieving, the spirit of the show, if not the quality and execution. It would have been nice to have seen the same attempt in the same number of pages but with about half the stories, letting the authors have more freedom to develop their story and their characters. But as it is, the constrained length of each story is a clear handicap.