Writer: Sam Sarkar
Artist: Garrie Gastonny
What They Say:
A small team of treasure hunters struggles to excavate a dangerous and legendary treasure pit before a massive storm hits Sable Island, the “Graveyard of the North Atlantic.” Equipped with all the latest technology, the scientists believe they are prepared against all of nature’s fury, but nothing can prepare them for what they are about to unleash from The Vault.
I’m a sucker for stories set in or near the water. And if there’s something mysterious and possibly creepy—well, that’s all the better. So when I saw the cover for The Vault Vol. 1, I knew it was something I wanted to read. The comic turned out to be pretty creepy, with an interesting monster and some absolutely beautiful art, but the lackluster plot and poor characterization kept this from living up to its potential.
Gabrielle Parker and Michael Page head a treasure-hunting expedition to Sable Island. Somewhere under the island lies an infamous money pit, much like the one in Oak Island, Nova Scotia. Scores have tried to reach the treasure rumored to be buried there, but none of have succeeded until now. A mysterious Russian backer going only by the name Kirilov joins the team at the last moment, bringing with him a dog-like Remote Operated Vehicle (or ROV) named Macula that can dig faster, farther, and in more hazardous areas than any human diver. His only demand is a full share of the treasure. This causes tension in the group because most have their life savings tied into the expedition, and if it fails then they lose everything.
Macula proves to be just as good as Kirilov claimed, and in no time the team manages to unearth trunks of gold and jewels. However, the expedition doesn’t discover the real reason for the pit until they find a hidden antechamber containing a sarcophagus. They open it and release an ancient, unholy terror that cuts through them like a scythe through wheat.
I won’t describe the thing they discover because doing so would give away some of the mystery, and a good horror story relies on the slow reveal of mysteries. I will say that it’s a very cool design and the artist Garrie Gastonny does a good job of making its posture and movements inhuman. There’s something spider-like about the creature, and it’s quite creepy.
The story’s basic premise is solid, if a little familiar. There are countless movies, novels, and short stories about adventurers uncovering long-forgotten chthonic terror from our primordial past, and The Vault certainly puts them in mind. This is not to say that the comic is ripping off any of those stories, just that it’s working within a tried-and-true story type within the horror genre. The problem is that it doesn’t do much to set itself apart from them. I couldn’t help but think of Alien and Ghost Ship while reading this. The fault doesn’t lie with story, though, but in the characters.
I had to look up Gabrielle, Michael, and Kirilov’s names earlier because I had forgotten them. Even though I had read the comic just a few hours ago, they were little more than character types in my memory. Gabrielle was the smart, strong, but emotionally stunted woman. Michael was the lovelorn, hapless fool hero. And Kirilov was the mysterious Russian badass that reminded me a little bit of the Spider-Man villain Kraven the Hunter. Genre work, such as horror in this case, often uses stock character types, but the strong stories find some way of making them memorable and somehow greater than their archetype. The Vault, unfortunately, does not.
Compounding this is Gastonny’s art. When it comes to nonhuman subjects like the creature or Macula or even just the background, he’s excellent, but when he draws people he comes up short. The faces are practically expressionless. They don’t convey any emotion and that makes it extremely difficult to feel anything for them, seriously diminishing the horror. Sure, the monster is creepy, but if I don’t care about how it’s eviscerating then there’s no real impact.
The writer John D. McDonald once defined a story as, “Something interesting happening to someone we care about.” The Vault has plenty of interesting events happening, but we don’t care about the people experiencing them. It’s a shame, too, because this series has some definite potential. According to a quick search, the comic has been optioned as a movie with Johnny Depp producing. This may be the rare case when a movie adaptation may surpass its source material because a good actor can give the scenes the emotional subtext that the comic is missing.
This was a fun mini-series that read like a B-grade horror movie. Not as bad as the stuff shown on SyFy, but certainly not great. The story was interesting and the monster visually arresting, but it lacked an emotional core because of its flat, one-dimensional characters.
Readers Rating: [ratings]