Tuesday, 29 November 2022

I Hate This Place, Volume 1 Review (Kyle Starks, Artyom Topilin)

Gabby inherits her aunt’s cattle ranch and leaves the big city behind to set up in the country with her wife Trudy. It’s an idyllic place - except for the ghosts, monsters, UFOs, poltergeists, a bottomless pit, and a terrifying figure that stalks the woods called The Horned Man. They also have a new ranch hand around who’s not who he says he is. Yeah… they’re quickly gonna hate this place.

I’ve never liked Kyle Starks’ comics before and I think that was primarily because he made comics that tried desperately to be funny - satirising ‘80s action movies, making fun of wacky ole American myths - and fell far short. Turns out he writes pretty damn good stuff when he stops gurning and plays it straight because I Hate It Here, Volume 1 was a shockingly entertaining comic.

The story starts strong and never really falters - it’s got an attention-grabbing opener that leads into one increasingly interesting scene after another with nary a dull moment. Starks has a good sense of when to move the action from one part of the setting to another, and when to introduce new elements to keep things fresh. I won’t go into specifics because those are what’ll keep you turning the pages but I definitely wasn’t ever bored reading this.

That said, one of the three criticisms I have about this first volume is that it does feel like Starks is throwing maybe too much at the reader too soon. First it’s ghosts, then monsters, then UFOs, then the Horned Man, then more monsters - it’s a lot of stock, prefab elements, one after the other, that feels a little contrived to see all co-existing in this one place.

It’s not a major criticism but the missing non-shady ranch-hand part of the story felt glossed over for convenience’s sake. I didn’t buy that he entirely disappears and his colleagues don’t even question or report it to the police - in fact, those characters are noticeably absent after their one appearance despite supposedly working on the ranch daily. More convenience.

The last critique is more of a nitpick - it seems weird that the aunt would record a tape warning anyone who entered the farm of the rules and apologising that they can never leave, and not just burn the place down and be done with it. Y’know, in case, oh, your niece inherits it after you die and gets trapped in this nightmare that you’ve kept her from her entire life up ‘til now. But then this is also a first volume so it may be the case that we find out reasons why the farm couldn’t be taken out quite so easily, etc.

Otherwise, this is an adeptly-written genre comic - the choice to overlay the hard-boiled crime story on top of the classic horror elements is inspired and works brilliantly so that you get a complete and satisfying arc in this book as well as get introduced to all of the creepy stuff in this part of the world to set up the series and next storyline.

I didn’t love Artyom Topilin’s art but it’s also not off-putting - it helps that the brilliant Lee Loughridge is the colourist. It’s quite gory at times so be warned if you’re squeamish. Starks can’t help but include some “comedic” shorts that he wrote and drew as extras after the main book concludes - they’re pointless and unfunny additions but maybe fans of his kind of humour will get a kick out of these. I liked the flash-forwards scenes at the end letting us know what to expect in future volumes which were effectively enticing.

I’m glad I gave Starks another chance because his latest was completely unheralded. I really enjoyed this one and would recommend I Hate This Place, Volume 1 - a comic that cleverly mixes horror and crime to create something new and fun to read.

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