Writers: T.P. Louise and Chris Ryall
Art: Ashley Wood and Nelson Daniel
Letters: Ian Chalgren
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: June 21st, 2023
Tales of Syzpense #1 is a new series that will feature two continuing stories each issue featuring different characters (much like the old “Tales of Suspense” from Marvel Comics, which the title of this book is a pun on). The issue kicks off with the first chapters of a horror-themed story in the first half and a superhero tale (with a twist) in the second half. Are these initial chapters interesting enough to add the series to your pull list? Read my review below to find out!
If you’re interested in this comic, series, related trades, or any of the others mentioned, then simply click on the title/link to snag a copy through Amazon as you read the Tales of Syzpense #1 Review.
The first story of Tales of Syzpense #1 is “Les Mort 13”. Set on the island of Southport, we get a one page prose description of the island before the story starts. This page summarizes the haunting aspects of Southport, including its terrifying history, and perfectly sets the mood for a good horror tale. Unfortunately, this is the best part, because once the story kicks in, it meanders, with page after page of word salad, mentions of robot wars and witches, hotels and cathedrals. I suppose all this is setup, giving us a tour of the island, and maybe if the art had been better it would have been more interesting. But the art, which is as sketchy and as incoherent as the narrative, makes the whole thing so indecipherable and difficult to follow it’s like trying to read the original Russian text of “Crime and Punishment” after having your pupils dilated.
It’s even hard to understand who the narrator is. All we’re given is that he has a wife and he has arrived at the island 4 hours late because of a ferry delay. At first, they seem to be new to the island, but during this first chapter of the story, they go into detail about the island and some of its notable residents. There’s nothing indicating who they are, why they’re there and how they know so much.
It’s a shame, because the prose opening sets a wonderfully grim tone, feeling like the beginning of an H.P. Lovecraft tale of a malevolent island and ancient wrathful gods that the rest of the story never remotely lives up to. The second story in the book is “Dream Weaver”. It’s a bit more entertaining and obviously a tribute to Stan Lee and classic Marvel comics, with Lee’s penchant for alliteration being plentiful throughout (“Introducing the Malevolent Mystic Might of Dream Weaver!”).
I appreciated the aesthetics of the text and narrative boxes, which felt like I had picked up a Marvel book from the 60’s, but the main character and the story just weren’t that interesting. Dream Weaver (whose real name is Cutler Carlton) is a Johnny Thunder-type character who seems to have no powers himself, but is always accompanied by Speck, a sentient beam of light that has magical properties. He appears to be a man in his sixties, way past his physical prime, yet he still dives into action, depending on Speck’s magic when needed. Despite the story has the trappings of an old Marvel Comic, it’s very modern in the use of language and how brutal it is. We see Cutler try to stop a witch (who looks remarkably like Marvel’s Moondragon) and her coven from opening something called a Recombitant Portal.
There’s no explanation for what that is, but apparently it’s a bad thing, so Cutler leaps into action. That’s where the brutality comes in, because Cutler is no Matt Murdock, and things turn shockingly bad quick, forcing Cutler to make some tough decisions. I’m not sure whether the story is meant to be Monty Python-style dark humor or if it’s meant to be a serious tale of a hero way past their prime refusing to retire. Either way, this first chapter is mildly interesting but mostly falls flat. Unlike the first story in the book, I feel this story will improve over time, and I’m interested in seeing the next chapter.
I’ve never been a fan of Ashley Wood’s art, and his art in the first story of Tales of Syzpense #1 is no exception. Granted, it’s a unique style, but it’s more impressionistic than detailed. It’s reminiscent of Bill Sienkiewicz’s work. But with Bill’s work, at least, you can still tell the flow of the story and recognize which character is speaking at any given moment. Nelson Daniel’s art on the second story is much better, very much like John Romita Jr.’s work. The action flowed nicely and Cutler’s age and limitations were conveyed perfectly through the art.
The first chapters of both stories in Tales of Syzpense #1 didn’t entice me enough to run out and add the book to my pull list to see the next chapters. Though the second story is mildly interesting, there’s not enough here for me to recommend the book.