Writer: Cullen Bunn
Art: Danny Luckert, Leila Leiz
Colors: Danny Luckert, Bill Crabtree
Letters: Nate Piekos
Cover: Danny Luckert, Leila Leiz
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: September 7th, 2022
Everyone knows not to walk alone in the woods. But is your home any safer? Find horror in both places in the first issue of this new anthology series.
Horror stories can begin in many ways. But some of the most effective start with unassuming slice-of-life personal stories that contain no hint of what’s to come–until it begins with a shock. In SHOCK SHOP #1, the first issue in a new horror anthology series, Cullen Bunn delivers two horror stories that do exactly that.
The first story in SHOCK SHOP #1, “Something in the Woods, in the Dark”, focuses on a group of friends on a hiking and camping trip. Obvious subtext makes the story uncomfortable from the start. We quickly find out why: a married couple careening toward divorce make up ⅓ of the group.
Bunn’s presentation of this dynamic is fairly standard. When the struggling couple retires to their tent for the night the remaining four friends discuss their relationship around the fire (loudly and almost certainly in earshot). Nothing here explores new territory, and that’s largely why it works in the story. We all know what these situations are like. In this way the interaction is completely banal, failing to elicit a strong reaction. And it’s that quality that makes the beginning of the story effective.
The horror element rears its head in the final pages when one of the friends gathered at the fire, needing to relieve himself after several beers, walks off into the woods. What he encounters looks like it came straight from John Carpenter’s The Thing, and the sudden urgency of its appearance is a shock after several pages of marital drama.
SHOCK SHOP #1’s second story, “Familiars”, is slightly more on the nose. It still involves an easily recognizable interpersonal dynamic–this time a divorced father and his two children–but it includes a bit of a twist. The father’s new house is apparently filled with invisible “helpful little sprites”.
Like the first story, “Familiars” is a mostly basic story of a parent showing his kids a good time during their weekend with him (even if it involves prepared coffee, human levitation, and floating baked goods). But the supernatural elements that occur almost from the beginning of this story tells us another shoe will drop. Not surprisingly, it does in the final panel.
For all the strength of these two stories, though, SHOCK SHOP #1 has one narrative flaw, and it rears its head in significant fashion before each story. Bunn uses a character named Desdaemona Nimue Moreau, proprietor of the comic book store Shock Shop, to frame both stories. These two single page scenes come off like the lead-in to late night B movies (think Svengoolie). The problem with this device is that neither story is corny, whether unintentionally or by design. As a result the transition is uneven–especially between the first and second story.
The horror elements’ strength in both of SHOCK SHOP #1’s stories is conveyed primarily through the visuals. The Thing-like creature in “Something in the Woods, in the Dark” walks the line of body horror but never pushes it too far. Perhaps this is a hint of what is to come in future installments of the story. “Familiars”, on the other hand, builds the tension primarily through the use of color. Select panels aredepicted solely in shades of red. This builds up to the final panel which reveals the disturbing nature of what is in the house.
Luckert must also be singled out for his depiction of the married couple in the first story. The subtext of their deteriorating marriage is communicated entirely through the art before a single line of dialogue even hints toward it.
SHOCK SHOP #1 is a largely successful first issue to this new anthology series despite the major flaw that is Bunn’s choice of framing device. It isn’t particularly interesting before the first story, and it is outright jarring before the second. Otherwise the stories do a good job developing the characters before they lean into the horror. Once they do, the disturbing art sells the mood and makes a compelling case for returning for the second issue.