Writer: Jay Sandlin
Artwork: Rodrigo Xavier & Allan Otero
Colors: Maxflan Araujo & Vinicius Andrade
Letters: Carlos M. Mangual
What They Say:
With the blood of nine confirmed and 200 suspected on his hands, H.H. Holmes is not only America’s first serial killer but perhaps the most notorious murderer of all time. One hundred years after his final kill, his name remains synonymous with torture and death.
But bodies are now being discovered in Chicago in circumstances chillingly familiar to those who know Holmes’ story. Could a copycat killer be on the loose in the city? Or is something even more sinister about to come to light?
Content (please note that portions of the review may contain spoilers):
Three months ago a young woman checks into her hotel room, with raucous music echoing through her headphones, she does not notice anything wrong after lying on the bed and turning on the television until it is too late, her breath coming in short gasps once the gas being pumped in under the mattress takes affect, and only then realizing someone was watching her the entire time. But now in the present time the head of security for the Gemini Hotel is investigating the crime scene, even as her boss bitterly complains about the inconvenience to his busy schedule for interrupting his squash game, for what he considers an accident at least according to the prior report. However this intrepid woman is not willing to accept this death as what it appears to be, especially considering the victim had no underlying health conditions, all while her callous employer is more concerned about how this extended enquiry will effect the property’s reputation, she will not cut her examination short. And yet as their heated conversation begins to expand, a disturbance at the door causes them to pause as a bespectacled man attempts to enter, with the sentry’s supervisor waving him in and questioning if he is the man who called ahead, Inspector Myers. Shaking hands with each other, the new set of eyes introduces himself and greets his host as former Officer Murphy of the Chicago police department, one of the youngest detectives in the force, who left under unusual circumstances.
And yet as the elderly man begins to survey the crime scene, owner Walter Lewis once again is more concerned about the hotel garnering bad press, insisting the police found nothing of importance so he has no reason to be here, with Harold responding he is here on behalf of the victim’s family. But even as this indifferent man recalls there were no next of kin, he offers to double the fee for this investigator if Myers will agree to capitulate with the initial findings, to which he waves off the opportunity and asks for Susan to continue with her recalling of the facts in the case. However as this former detective reads from her notes of how Deborah Newton was murdered within a room with smart locks, she highlights none of the neighbors heard sounds of a struggle and neither the subject’s cell or the landline were used to call for help, until housekeeping found the body the next morning. And yet as he is intrigued by this fanciful tale, the newcomer presents his own interpretation of what lies hidden within the room, skillfully revealing a hidden camera for the stalker to watch her suffering, how the phone was altered so as to be inoperable and walls themselves lined with metal to block any outgoing signals so as to create a dead zone. Stunned by this new information and Lewis denying he knew nothing about this, Murphy calls for the head of maintenance to bring a sledgehammer so as to clear the way, only for all to be stunned in finding the partition hid a passage behind it. While the assembled are eager to search for how far this new corridor goes, Susan pulls her gun and attempts to arrest Myers, stating he knows too much about the murder to be coincidence and she has never heard of his reputation before, forcing him to reveal himself to be a history professor at Chicago University with a fascination for serial killers and this case reminded him of a similar hotel incident which remains unsolved from many years ago.
After seeing the title for this special, quite honestly I was initially puzzled by who this H.H. Holmes might be, even while noticing by how predominantly his name was displayed within a Grimm Tales of Terror quarterly and thus minimally spoiling the basis for the story. However after learning about his notorious past and supposedly being America’s first serial, my interest was immediately sparked, especially after learning Zenescope had tapped new writer Jay Sandlin to weave a fascinating tale of sickening intrigue, made all the more repugnant and disturbing to witness since the special is based upon the exploits of a non-fictional killer. To even consider someone could create such an enthralling tale is a feat upon itself, with the subject matter not something one can readily approach without appearing biased to judge the facts of Holmes’ escapades in a negative light, just as one might do during a trial against an infamous murderer who had a shady reputation. And yet the transfixing approach which Sandlin takes in crafting this sublime tale is the key to easily enveloping the reader, allowing Inspector Myers to innocently inject himself into the investigation, and for those who have watched enough crime procedurals, knowing this wily attempt works for the helpful outsider to learn more about the crime itself and how the police are progressing in their case.
But what makes the unfolding of this story so absorbing is the method by which we are drawn into the tale via informative flashbacks which are based upon chilling facts from the original murders, allowing the two timelines to seamlessly interact without unnecessary exposition, thus allowing similarities from the horrific environments and killing methods to reflect the brutality of Holmes and the present day imitator. Sandlin gradually allows us to appallingly relate with this cold blooded manic through Harold’s haunting recollections, his nonchalant telling is disarming, permitting the traps to have even more of a brutal shock factor once they are sprung, all as this skillful scribe slips in subtle hints as to the identity of the diverse players upon this grisly stage. The tantalizing tease as our sanity begins to wane is what makes this narrative so captivating, allowing the reader to subconsciously wonder how each person may react or not, permitting us to make our own snap judgment as to how every individual may be a suspect or at least an accomplice, adding to the fascination by allowing the audience to solve this amazing whodunit before the inevitable and staggering conclusion.
However what makes this special so graphically immersive are the distinctive art styles and coloring techniques, providing a fascinating allowance to keep the reader visually interested within contrasting timelines while not detracting from the narrative itself, instead magnifying its sinister nature while becoming a grounding force for a sense of normalcy within the present as we adjust to the perverse personality of the truth behind Holmes’ grotesque obsession to commit murders hidden away from prying eyes. To open with Rodrigo Xavier’s clean and crisp linework within the opening scene helps to give the readers a perception of serenity, with Deborah paying no mind to her surroundings since she thinks there is no danger within a supposedly safe hotel, and made all the more disarming due to her relaxed attitude of wearing sunglasses inside and earphones which cut off both sight and hearing to anything which may signal something is wrong. The stereotypical portrayal of an innocent girl dressed within skimpy clothes harkens back to teen scream movies, with the attractive protagonist being innocent and allowing the viewer to see her as someone who may be relatable, thus making the tragedy of her recklessness all the more traumatic to introduce the story, such in that the victim may have survived if only she might had paid attention to her surroundings.
And yet what makes the incident all the more terrifying is Maxflan Araujo’s selection of a muted palette, allowing the numbness which modern people have for tragedy due to overexposure within the media sink into the background, making it appear to be an everyday event which arouses no urgency which is made more apparent due to their expressionless faces, just as Walter states to Susan – ”business as usual”. This callous attitude serves to dull the feeling of danger which would normally urge people to become alerted to danger, but the somber veil which covers this atmosphere helps to deaden this survival instinct, that is until we are sparked back to life with the introduction of Inspector Myers and his concussive story of a similar tale of horror. It is from Allan Otero’s shockingly sinister depiction of Holmes from where our nightmare begins, made all the more oppressive thanks to Vinicius Andrade’s darkly distinct color scheme within the opening panel of the frightful flashback, with face cloaked in shadows and knowing eyes looking down upon the reader with a sense of superiority, made all the more fiendish due to cackling skulls which decorate the background enshrouded in crimson licked flames; this inundating display defines the audience’s view with a sight which seems ripped from the bowels of the underworld, almost allowing us to hear their derisive laughter as we are cast into the insanity of their owner’s frightful world of sadistic pleasure and letting us immediately know who is in charge of this special.
And while these recollections may be brief in our mesmeric exposure, it is the simplistic yet detailed imagery which makes Holmes seem so innocuous at first, his dapper demeanor casting doubt that this man could be a monster until we turn the page and see the other side hidden behind the mask of a gentleman. From these prompt glimpses into the past we able to see masochistic moments whereby allowing us to we grasp the demented pleasure he takes from torturing his helpless victims, the fiendish delight from varying ways to extract the most pain and satisfy a sense of control over people who have none. With each glimpse into the gory interior of the Murder Palace, another chill of disgust runs down our spines, allowing Otero and Andrade to create a synergistic transition between each morbid illustration and amplify our contempt for a man who shows no mercy, even as we fall deeper into a subversive story which will leave a lasting memory as to the evil which one man can sow within his lifetime … and beyond.
Grimm Tales of Terror Quarterly: H.H. Holmes is a chilling reminder that evil has many faces, and while his name may not be well known within the annuals of horror, the sickening exploits which are reflected within this disturbing special will painfully carve out a niche within the readers’ memory, one that will last for years to come. Thanks to a dynamically contrasting selection of artistic talents utilized to portray differing time periods within the narrative, the audience is able to seamlessly transition between the serene present and the frenzied past due to equally effective illustration and coloring techniques, all while gradually submerging ourselves within differing worlds which are connected by one vile thread – the exploits of H.H. Holmes and his hopeless imitation. However while the observant reader may be able to discern the outcome of the tale and its diabolical end, it is the elegantly subtle nature of the protagonists deceitful ways which makes this special so maliciously delightful, as to making this of the best Grimm Tales of Terror stories I have the sincere pleasure to significantly enjoy, only leaving behind the foul inkling that tonight something may keep into my nightmares and leave behind a lingering reminder of man’s smothering cruelty.
Rating: T (Teen)
Released By: Zenescope
Release Date: April 07, 2021