The first half of a haunted house story is usually fraught with a particular danger for the audience—that of boring them to tears. They’ll get a tease of the bogeyman under the bed and in the closet, but nothing scary will actually happen until the midway point and the final act. Until then, the audience must befriend the protagonists, pretend to care about their family drama (New to town? Inherited the mansion on top of the hill? Relocating after a personal tragedy?), and scan each scene in quiet desperation for a visual clue that hints at morbid connective tissue.
None of that snark is meant to suggest that horror needs jump scares and gore aplenty, but this book is “Part One” of a coherent narrative, which should stand as a warning to readers that they will not be getting any satisfying payoffs just yet. The tale of the Blaine family—surviving son Chase returns to the swampy family estate after his brother and sister-in-law’s murders, with niece and nephew in tow-—evolves around grief, anger, regret, and buried secrets. The moody niece Mackenzie and nephew of few words Zach are interesting to watch, with their individual quirks setting them apart while their sibling bond means they understand each other better than anyone else in the story. Chase punches out a racist in a bar as he calls the mixed-race children a racial epithet, but the heart of the story has more to do with Chase’s cryptic past. Upon returning home, his longtime friend Reese appears to help look after the house and kids. Chase is hounded by the belief that he is destructive while his late brother was creative, but there’s something sinister in the walls of the house. Literally—old family heirlooms are hidden in the walls and indicate a creepy mystery to be uncovered in a later book.
The Plot’s biggest strengths are in the quality of the visuals, both as storytelling tools and to behold on their own. Joshua Hixson’s illustrations are a little dim and dirty, which is befitting the bog-like setting and frequent dark or nighttime settings. For all the exposition that takes place to set the stage, there are several wordless sequences that build intrigue and suspense through paneling, Jordan Boyd’s coloring, and Jim Campbell’s lettering. For example, there is a scene of Zach and a dog exploring the bog, which is first drawn zoomed out, with plenty of room around both characters. Something in the water catches Zach’s foot, which causes the dog to bark. The panels become narrower and redder while barking fills the negative space in a large, thick, raw font. Zach is pulled underwater into another zoomed-out panel full of dark, green vegetation, quiet but menacing. These sorts of techniques come up all over the book, including a small, satisfying “Kick!” panel breaking the gutter between two panels of a room before and after its door is kicked open. Other horror sights such as a recurring undead figure would fit into a PG-13 horror movie; language would land it an R rating that few would notice.
On its own, it’s hard to recommend The Plot: Part One for general audiences without knowing what will happen in the upcoming Part Two. The building tension and mystery are effective but are only suggestive. Previews for future issues indicate that the same creative team will stick around, in which case, I definitely recommend Part One for adult and older teen horror collections, with the condition that readers hold tight for Part Two.
The Plot: Part One
By Tim Daniel, Michael Moreci
Art by Joshua Hixson
Publisher Age Rating: N/A
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NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)
Character Traits: Multiracial,