Most comics that delve into the worlds of horror and thriller fill their pages with graphic images of violence and gore. But after a time readers can become numb to it all because it’s simply shock for shock’s shake and little more. Fialkov seems well aware of this with his Harvey-nominated title Echoes. Instead of focusing on the physical aspects of horror he zooms in on the characters and gives us a taught, well-crafted thriller with deeply psychological twists.
When the book opens Brian Cohn sits at his father’s bedside, trying to make peace with his conflicted thoughts and emotions before his father dies. In a strange moment of clarity his father breaks through the fog of Alzheimers, looks up at Brian and says, “Dead girls…so many dead girls…” and gives him directions to a house. These words become his father’s last, driving Brian to question if they indicate something terrifying or if they are simply meaningless words uttered by a dying man who suffered from schizophrenia most of his life.
Brian follows his father’s directions and finds a long-abandoned house. It doesn’t take him long to uncover the cramped crawlspace and, using nothing but the dim light from his cell phone, stumble upon a small box. Inside the box Brian discovers dozens of tiny dolls made out of bone and human skin, each one carefully labelled with a name, birth date and date of death. It becomes obvious that Brian’s father killed these girls.
As the story develops we learn that Brian has troubles well beyond his father’s deathbed confession. Like his father Brian suffers from schizophrenia, an illness that forces him to regiment his life around medications and therapy appointments. This twist not only adds to the already terrifying situation but calls into question everything we see and hear through Brian. Are the dolls real, or just horrifying hallucinations? Did he really hear his father admit to killing the girls, or was it a symptom of his schizophrenia driven by his confused feelings for his father?
It’s in the second chapter when the story takes a truly Hitchcockian turn. Driving by an elementary school Brian stops for a moment, sees a young girl on a swing set and, because of everything with his father, gets out of his car and vomits. The next day Brian learns the girl vanished from that very same playground. Although he has no memory of taking the girl, Brian wonders if his father’s perverse proclivities have somehow transferred on to him. It doesn’t take long for the police to get involved and start tearing his life apart. The rest of the book focuses on Brian trying to stay ahead of the police long enough to determine the truth about his father, himself and how guilty both of them truly are.
None of Fialkov’s script would work without Ekedal’s art. Bringing in a strong influence from 60’s and 70’s horror comics like Creepy and Eerie, Ekedal delivers a sketchy style that enhances the mood with its use of light and shadow. Although the imagery rarely turns gory Ekedal takes everything from well-lit playgrounds to dark crawlspaces and transforms the quiet suburbs into a physical manifestation of Brian’s inner world.
But Ekedal’s real skill lies in communicating emotion. There are a number of powerful panels that are simply Brian’s face—-a tortured face that lets the reader feel a bit of all the pain, sadness and deep confusion constantly tearing at Brian. Ekedal even manages to carry through on the Hitchcock vibe. When the police first confront Brian we get an image of Brian’s face reflecting off of the policeman’s mirrored sunglasses, recalling a very similar visual from an early moment in Hitchcock’s classic film Psycho.
Readers hoping for a typical action-packed ending will be letdown here. While Echoes shares a number of traits with thrillers this is a thriller light on physical action and without an easy villain. Echoes ultimately becomes the story of Brian’s descent into madness and loss of control over everything in his life. Filled with terror and deep psychological torment Fialkov and Ekedal deliver a powerfully disturbing and very adult story that lovers of masterful comics and dark thrillers will find haunting them long after reading.