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Grimm Tales of Terror Quarterly 2021: Halloween Special Review

16 min read

How far would you go for success … and what are you willing to lose?

Creative Staff:
Story: Joe Brusha, Ralph Tedesco, Dave Franchini & Jay Sandlin
Writer: Jay Sandlin
Artwork: Guillermo Fajardo, Sergio Ariño, Juan Francisco Mota, Moy R. & Hakan Aydin
Colors: Grostieta, Maxflan Araujo, Clau Violette, Edwin Estrada & Vinicius Andrade
Dreamland/Nightmareland Logo Design: Ashley Vanacore
Letters: Sean Konot

What They Say:

With tons of blood-dripping pages of horror-filled story, join Keres, the Goddess of Death as she brings her own brand
of justice this year to those attending a haunted theme park during the height of the horror season!

Content (please note that portions of review may contain spoilers):

Welcome to Nightmareland

As thunder rumbles through the sky and rain pelts an unfortunate man, aspiring actor Nathan finds himself cursing his bad luck to find himself in Dreamland on such a stormy evening, all in hope to be able to join a mysterious society which meets in this unusual place, only to be shocked free from his malaise by the disturbing cry of a raven perched on the nearby grandfather clock as it strikes the hour. Still disturbed by this haunting noise, Best is still shaken when someone from behind greets him this night, a sharply dressed man in a butler’s outfit who calls himself Kingston, welcoming him to the theme park on this Halloween night, as the scale model before them changes with their surroundings into a special place for this holiday, now called Nightmareland. But even as this visitor is impressed by the transformation, he willingly admits his acting is not good enough to be as notable, thus prompting his desire to come to this place for the secret it hides and known only to a select few – Club 66. And yet as Kingston escorts this prospective member behind the curtain, this servant shows the disturbing Wall of Souls, a selection of morbid portraits of impressive past clients who paid the price to join, and while Nathan declares he will pay anything to secure his membership, this ominous attendant offers a garish green refreshment in response. Taking a sip of this alcoholic beverage casts this careless man through the Ritual of Entry, revealing a nightmarish glimpse of past memories through a ride called the Eldritch Void, to which Brother Best finally returns to reality within the Inner Sanctum, burdened by the news his dues to Club 66 are to feed the theme park the souls of the unworthy.

Seven Undead Seas

Offering Nathan a name badge, Kingston clarifies on Halloween night Nightmareland lures the most depraved and craven through its gates, and it is here where this prospective member will work within the park to feed it what it craves, beginning at the resort’s most popular attraction called Seven Undead Seas. But as Best asks for any advice as how to proceed, the ghastly attendant states he is a neutral party and will not take sides, only to warn if he offers the location enough souls by dawn, his membership will be secured. It is then as group of religious fanatics preach their bigoted teachings to visitors who are trying to enjoy the evening, this new employee attempts to convince them he believes in their cause of doing what they want and taking what they wish, just like the pirates in their most popular ride. And while Brother Martin’s followers complain of tired feet, it does not take much for Nathan to persuade this self-centered team they deserve a break on this packed crowd-pleaser, especially when an understanding person is willing to let them in for free.

Dark Creature Carousel

Within the fairway of Nightmareland, Valentina is enjoying a frighteningly realistic Creepy Candy Apple, but as she munches away on the sugary treat, her hands are now too sticky to reach her wallet to pay the vendor, and it causes the girl to shout out to boyfriend Manuel for some assistance, even as he tries to take a call within the noisy environment, and is now forced to halt his conversation to placate a waiting employee. Growing more annoyed by this woman’s flamboyant personality of calling out his name in public, this angered man drags the scantily clad lady to a nearby alleyway, even as the panicked seller tries to give his customer the change. Now amid this secluded spot, Manuel begins to lecture his inconsiderate girlfriend, warning her they could have their fun as long as his wife doesn’t find out, but with the park packed as it is and more people seeing them being a risk, he doesn’t know if it is safe any more, even as Valentina attempts to comfort him with a teasing hug and stating she likes getting away with things. It is then when Nathan politely interrupts their tender embrace with an additional fruity dessert, interjecting that he overheard their conversation of not wanting to be found out, especially in such a crowded place, and so offers a private ride on one of their popular attractions – the Creature Carousel. With Valentina immediately attracted to a colorfully painted unicorn and Manuel gravitating toward its dashing mate, the pair eagerly mount their respective seats with Nathan assuring them this ride moves so fast, they won’t have to worry about anyone seeing them.

Safari!

On the Nightmareland’s Safari, a pair of fraternity brothers are nearing the end with two disinterested girls who are trying to enjoy themselves on this lazy water ride, but as the boat nears the dock and Nathan thanks his guests for their participation, one the juvenile miscreants attempts to make an unwanted advance by using his foot to peek under a nearby skirt, fueled by numerous drinks and toxic machismo. Of course the unsuspecting lady does not appreciate this rude proposal, answering such a forward approach with a vicious slap across the cheek, and while the tormentors attempt to protest this unfriendly response, the angry visitors storm off with polite directions to the main entrance from their guide. However as these appropriately punished violators now vow revenge, it is Nathan who once again offers help in making their adventure more agreeable, telling the troublesome teenagers if they want to reach their goal before their prey, to take the other path and they arrive sooner, with their gratitude offered in the form of a final insult as to the park’s sensible uniform.

Hellcoaster

At the concert venue of Nightmareland, the aptly named Shiverdale gives their final encore before calling it a night and thanking the audience, with their frontman reminding the assembled they will be roaming the crowd later to sell their merchandise, but they are not marketing their latest t-shirts or posters to these teenage fans, but something much more sinister. Although as these aging musicians welcome prospective buyers, they soon learn either these kids are too smart or cynical to buy drugs from adults, with all laughing at their ridiculous attempts by thinking they are either undercover vice or old enough to be their parents. But as their leader Carl berates them for their failed chances, it is then when he reveals plans for stealing the park’s closing sales, all thanks to a deft theft of the security office key, thinking they have plenty of time before dawn to secure the safe and get away with the cash. However as they prepare their heist, it is Nathan who approaches with congratulations for the great music, and to show his appreciation before the facilities close, he wants let them ride the Hellcoaster, an amusement which has not opened to the general public, and this is an invitation they cannot turn down.

Exiting Nightmareland

As dawn approaches and the park begins to close, Best returns to the manor house and is greeted by Kingston and his raven, proudly stating that in this evening they have gathered the most souls in many Halloween seasons, and with this generous contribution Brother Nathan has paid his dues in full and now all that waits is the final ritual to join Club 66. Thinking he will at last have the power and influence he craves, the man willingly follows this macabre servant into the elevator and they descend downstairs into the Hall of Mirrors, greedily watching as past failures now turn into success before his eyes, but as these delusions become more glamorous, he does not notice the once faithful butler has vanished and his dreams quickly turn into nightmares.

In Summary:

It has been a few months since we last saw our favorite Goddess of Death, and as such most readers would expect this captivating redhead to make her return during a season appropriate for her profession, with all of the obligatory scares and sanguinary deaths which one would expect with her arrival, made all the more thrillingly anticipatory due to a harrowing story created by Joe Brusha, Ralph Tedesco, Dave Franchini and Jay Sandlin, frighteningly made manifest due to the writing of Sandlin himself, with an opening which sets the somber mood with all of the wanton chills one would expect from the Grimm Tales of Terror Quarterly 2021: Halloween Special. And yet from the beginning of this special, I could not but question that the structure of the narrative with Kingston had an eerily familiar tone to something which had the same haunting setting, then remembering the old EC Comics series Tales from the Crypt plus its namesake television and film series with decrepit guide the Crypt Keeper, then later to recall the movies and following small screen programs of Creepshow with emaciated host Creep a more meaningful fit, his lanky form and later limited interactions more suitable to this role, allowing Nathan to speak with someone who would initially chaperone him into joining Club 66, and also become an embodiment of Nightmareland itself.

From these memorable vignettes contained within this one-shot that Sandlin weaves a haunting tale that entices readers to step ever deeper into the world of Nightmareland, foolishly following Nathan in his selfish journey to gain the shallow power and influence which he so longingly craves. And yet for someone who has no qualms in sacrificing others for an empty promise, the audience cannot but immediately acknowledge Best is no better than the people he condemns, with each soul he feeds to the park another nail in his coffin and ever deeper into the depths which he will soon follow with his victims. Although it is the temptation which Kingston offers that opens the portal, made ever enticing due to the rumors which Nathan has heard which makes the offer all the more persuasive, and yet it is strange this greedy man cannot or will not see his failure once he crosses over, signaling there is no turning back. This is made abundantly clear with each toxic tale as to how human foibles are exposed: arrogance combined with a superiority complex, infidelity, narcissism, and finally greed and false friendships, with all leading to the most wretch of deaths and more souls to fulfill an empty contract.

However after all of the disturbing yet morbidly satisfying deaths, it is the puzzling aftermath occurring to Nathan which makes this special a perplexing conundrum, with the much awaited arrival of Keres and revealing a surprising twist in her detached temperament, going against established norms from prior appearances and severely contradicting the statement Kingston made earlier: ”Sorry Brother Best. I’m a neutral party. I don’t take sides.” While the Goddess of Death was initially impartial during her first title Grimm Fairy Tales Presents: No Tomorrow, scything whole populations with no qualms as to if it was their fated end yet, over time she began to take sides as to who deserved death, thus prompting the other Gods of Death from the Realms of Power to judge her in Grimm Fairy Tales Presents: Death One-Shot, causing her to conclude ”And it is not our job to decide their fate … Good or evil.”. And yet as loyal fans know, this supposedly unfeeling watcher has shown she will advise those she deems worthy of her assistance, all while not directly taking part in the outcome which their destined paths will lead, but this is not the case in this sickening story. To watch the closing moments of Best’s demise makes it seem as if Keres now takes great pleasure in punishing the most retched and depraved in Nightmareland, her once beautiful countenance warped into a sadistic torturer who has no qualms in using Nathan to lure those select into ghastly deaths, and then cumulating in her unwitting pawn to experience the pain and suffering his victims endure in their final moments. Even if one could justify this story taking place between lapses of her long existence, when would her personality warp this much so as to become as cruel and corrupt as the people she deems are worthy of prolonged and painful deaths? This leap in irrational judgment seems out of place for the Grimm Tales of Terror franchise, and though the wicked are fittingly punished, the zeal of this unprincipled reaper feels counterintuitive to the deity we once knew, and hopefully it will be a one time lapse in her normally objective and dispassionate observation of humanity.

And yet even within this frenetic narrative of the wicked being punished in the most gruesome of ways, it is the shocking opening and closing illustrations by Guillermo Fajardo which makes the most sincere impact on the reader, allowing the audience to witness the beginning and end of Nathan with equally morbid interest, all due to Fajardo’s fascinating attention to detail within the classic stormy night horror introduction, made all the more intense due to Grostieta’s grimly dark selection of colors and subdued usage of light. However what draws our interest to this character is his depiction of a person who visually might be based on Ichabod Crane from Washington Irving’s short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, his extended and exaggerated facial features with lanky physique reflects the man who is afraid to confront fear, jumping at every startle within the manor house; and yet the fantastic shading and background imagery allowing these surroundings to become so immersive are due to Grostieta’s subdued palette, darker tones and flashes of bright illumination extenuating every texture with necessary shadows to heighten the unease which both the reader and Best feel within these unknown surroundings, setting such a foreboding mood against the unexpected, until we are faced by the escort for this story. While the initial page may have set stage, it is ominous butler Kingston, reminiscent of Creep from Creepshow, which guides all through the descent into darkness, with his elegant tuxedo dressed form appropriate for a haunted house, even if his horridly gaunt face appears to be stolen from the nightmares yet to come.

But while this foreward may have been jarring to get the audience in an appropriately anxious mindset, it is the exit by Fajardo which is distressing in how this same artist could have created such perversely contrasting pages, made all the more effective due to Vinicius Andrade’s chilling explosion of colors, opting to use an engrossing mixture of oppressive tones balanced against clever usage of nauseating illumination, warping our imagination into believing this sight may be normal for the wicked inhabitants of Nightmareland. After the horrors which we have seen, one cannot but be numbed by the maniacally comforting setting displayed before us, with Kingston and Nathan now wearing matching warped grins, fitting their depraved personalities for what is to come, and made all the more profound once they enter the Hall of Mirrors which is a sobering reflection of the sickness which this new Brother has dealt to their guilty customers. And yet it is these warped images which serve to highlight the terror that all have witnessed prior, engraving the pain and misery which Nathan’s victims have suffered into his own decaying soul, and thus summoning the one responsible for his nightmare from the shell once called Kingston – the Goddess of Death Keres. However while the captivating past portrayals may serve as a reminder of the faces which she once inhabited, it is loyal fans who may be unsettled by how our once beautiful observer has been warped into such a sadistic deceiver, and leaving us to wonder if this perverted being is now her true form.

It is during transitions between rides in which this special effectively utilizes the techniques of various artists to set differing stages for this narrative, allowing each story to convey unique graphical portrayals for each group of doomed victims, with Sergio Ariño creating the opening for the bigoted assembly who are Nathan’s first victims, the forceful temper of their leader clearly evident through his squared off jaw and rugged features. You can almost hear his booming voice echoing from a wide open mouth, and yet the act becomes comical once his wife smacks him over the head, clearly show the audience who is charge of this family. The subdued lighting from Maxflan Araujo’s muted palette allows each movement to become more pronounced and the backgrounds to stand out amid the actors, but at the same time, it is Ariño’s extenuated shading of shadows which draws the most attention, especially prevalent within Nathan’s close-up of a deadpan expression when facing down these bullies. While you cannot but admire the pronounced musculature and detailed textures of these areas, it is these same locations which stand out when compared to their solidly colored surroundings, allowing the audience to wonder why the artistic differentiation for what is supposed to be one story. Even if Ariño’s illustrations are striking for his attention to details and captivating body structures, the eyes of the reader cannot but focus upon those unique features, made all the more noticeable due to Araujo’s somber tones and dimly lit surroundings.

When compared to the prior ride, Juan Francisco Mota’s images have a softer presentation which allows the audience to immediately relax from the previous horrors, with the lighthearted display of a shapely woman enjoying her sweet endearing in its simplistic charm, while causing us to stare in bewilderment at the familiar face on her candy apple, with Araujo’s continued muted colors delight us but with an increase in lighting to smoothly transform into a new setting. However while these same under lit areas serve to lend a soft tenderness to this adulterous pair, it is Mota’s sharp expressions upon their faces which communicate the underlying emotions, from sincere happiness for the girl to growing irritation from the man, all while the world revolves around them and their no longer isolated affair. But it is when the pair are introduced to the carousel does Mota’s images take on a more animated tone, with the increased illumination hinting at the childlike appeal of this amusement due to a slight increase in line weight, even as the audience winces at the wickedness that is to come.

One cannot but feel an immediate sense of disdain for the fraternity brothers who are at the center of Moy R.’s segment, the sharpness of his linework and pinpoint pupils concisely portray the expressions of these characters, leaving no room for misunderstanding when we first see the smugness upon their faces with arrogant grins versus the looks of disinterest from the girls sitting across from these troublemakers. With Clau Violette’s effective use of dim lighting and muted tones to amplify the isolation of this waterborne safari, one cannot but immediately wonder if something is hiding in the surrounding jungle, even as readers share a smile of satisfaction as the teenager’s face comically distorts from a vicious slap across his rotund cheek. And yet even as Nathan cheerfully sees his visitors off and directs them to the exit, the audience knows these sexist brats will not find what they are looking for, with their foul temperament an open indicator of what they are in for just past the foreboding undergrowth.

For a special which has been mostly bathed in darkness, in both the literal and visual sense, this closing sequence illustrated by Hakan Aydin with colors by Edwin Estrada at first appears to be out of place due to the initial house lights, but it quickly dives back into the somber nature of the one-shot, allowing for Aydin to provide the characters a sinister side of their personalities and Estrada dyeing the stage once again in blackness. But even as these aging rockers attempt to win back their glory days, once cannot deny it is pitiful to see them try to act younger, made more pronounced thanks to Aydin’s focus on the small details, such as the addition of furrowed wrinkles, crows’ feet, pot bellies and stuffing a face with junk food, which spoils the effect these musicians are trying to disguise. However as the gang wallow in their failure, it is Estrada’s midnight blue backgrounds that allows the sinisterness of the leader’s final plan to creep forward, made all the more ominous thanks to black eye make-up and sparkling accents in downturned eyes, the overall ambiance of the scene eerily haunting as to what is about to occur to this rotten group when Nathan overhears them and offers a better way to spend the closing night.

Although Grimm Tales of Terror Quarterly 2021: Halloween Special has the smothering sinisterness which we expect from this series, allowing readers to ghoulishly delight in fitting punishments for corrupt people, as the decisive narrative comes to a predictable close, it is the twist ending which curiously corrupts what loyal readers anticipate and cast doubt if this monumental change will be permanent to the Goddess of Death which we have come to deliberately respect and proudly admire. With outstanding illustrations which materialize the darkness and somber colors that give life to the corruption of warped minds, visually this one-shot is memorable for the eclipsing tapestry that it gloriously presents, but due to foundational changes to such an established character as Keres, the deity we once knew as an advisory observer appears to be subverted into someone more suitable to her new role. The spirit of her personality of non-interference is gone, replaced by sadistic woman who clings to the essence of the truth in order to serve her own nefarious means of collecting the souls of the wicked, no longer concerned with overtly tipping the scales of justice, if these drastic means will give her want she wants, then so much the better.

Grade: A

Age Rating: T (for Teens)
Released By: Zenescope
Release Date: October 20, 2021
MSRP: $8.99

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