Even amid a new renaissance of A+ horror content, some books still manage to stand out as especially good. I Walk With Monsters is one of those books that tells its story so well that it almost becomes a masterclass in how to create a perfect horror comic along the way. Focusing in on two “hurt people that hurt people,” I Walk With Monsters is a story of revenge that never sums up even a shred of sympathy for its villains. Rather, it shows us how our heroes are so often more complicated than we want them to be.
If you could make sure that the people who hurt you would never have the chance to hurt anyone else ever again, would you? I Walk With Monsters implicitly answers “absolutely yes” and moves on to the next question well before the story ever even begins. By the time we meet our heroes, both are road-weary and haggard after years of traveling hard, taking revenge on real-life monsters that hurt children. The story works backwards to tell us why.
We begin the first issue with our protagonist Jacey tied to a chair, calmly responding to a man who becomes increasingly frantic as he threatens her, rambling insults and frustrated by her lack of fear. We discover almost immediately that Jacey isn’t afraid because she has a secret weapon up her sleeve in the form of David, a man who transforms into a demonic wolf and rips the man asunder.
Through a series of (thankfully) vague flashbacks, we learn that Jacey and her brother were both taken in by a man that used them, and ultimately sold her brother to a person implied to be involved in a pedophilia ring. Again, details are sparse, and the story never delves so deeply into the past that it derails the present. This isn’t a story of someone being traumatized so much as it’s a story of someone who has lived with trauma for many, many years and the fallout that comes from that. In the end, what matters is that Jacey tried to report the man to authorities that were reluctant to come to her aid, and it changed how she viewed the system’s ability to help children in need. Instead, she simply poisons him herself, and leaves with the demonic dog that has been showing up every now and again to help and protect her.
They travel together for years, and Jacey grows to adulthood. All the while, she is obsessed with the idea that they could hunt down serial killers and rapists and end their sprees of terror using David’s enhanced senses. David objects again and again, until, one day, he runs out of excuses and agrees to help her. This journey brings them face-to-face with the biggest monster in Jacey’s life – the man who bought her brother.
Sally Cantirino’s art and pacing adds a lot to this story. With a style that seems equally inspired by underground comics and rock music as it does the horror comics canon, the expressiveness of characters are dialed all the way up and the action is gripping. Yet, it’s the moments where Cantirino allows the pages to go completely off the rails that we see some of the story’s most memorable moments. Red scribbles indicate David’s enhanced senses, the shakiness of memory is portrayed by panels fading and breaking to pieces, and shadowy, amorphous monsters battle each other to the death.
Likewise, Dearbhla Kelly sticks with a mostly nostalgic color palette, complimenting Cantirino’s flair for retro clothing and vibes. Yet, when the pencils start to go wild, the colors meet them at every turn, creating some of the most memorable monsters to ever grace the comic page. Letterer Deron Bennett perfectly rounds out the visual aesthetic by bringing a style that hearkens back to independent comics of the early ‘90s. The story calls for a letterer that can provide a restrained narrative with moments of flair via some especially visceral sound effects. Bennett delivers by matching the emotional tone of every page.
You Can’t Change The Past
The greatest triumph of I Walk With Monsters might be its compassionate view of the relationship between David and Jacey, written by Paul Cornell. The story shows a lot of kindness for David, who is agonizingly patient with Jacey as he does everything in his power to protect and defend her despite the fact that she is openly intent on destroying herself along with the monsters they pursue. We discover that he was a bonafide nightmare person before he sought redemption by becoming her protector, noting that what he needed, in order to change himself for the better, was to be what she needed. Meanwhile, Jacey’s trauma feels painfully real, and it isn’t always pretty. Her feelings of anger and self-loathing threaten to overtake her, and she isn’t always kind to David. Together, the two of them work to forgive themselves.
Having wrapped with its sixth issue, this series is already a heavy contender for one of the best books of the year. Though this story is a fun horror romp, there’s more to it than genre tropes. Indeed, beyond the monsters of its title, its key strengths are in reminding us that sometimes healing doesn’t mean erasing old wounds to become what you were before. Instead, healing so often means becoming something new entirely. These characters carry their scars from beginning to end and they don’t go away, but perhaps it’s more important that they might use these lessons to finally accept themselves, bruises and all.