Review time! with ‘Nocturnals: The Sinister Path’

“He’ll try in vain to take away the pain of being a hopeless unbeliever”

Dan Brereton has been doing Nocturnals comics for two decades or so, and they’re always fascinating books, even though he’s still not the greatest writer. He’s decent, certainly, but his art makes up for a lot of shortcomings in the writing. He’s done a new comic starring everyone’s favorite supernatural family, called The Sinister Path, which comes to us from Big Wow! Art. Brereton does everything on the book except letter it, which is handled by Lois Buhalis. If you’ve never read any Nocturnals before, well … you really should get on that, because they’re very cool, but if you haven’t, Brereton provides a brief primer at the beginning of the book, catching you up on the characters in the comic, and you don’t really need to have read the older stuff. But you should. Trust me.

I first saw Brereton’s art on The Psycho, which he did with James Hudnall for DC back 1991, only a few years into his career (shockingly, he got his start at Eclipse in 1988, drawing a story written by Kurt Busiek). Ever since then, I’ve tried to get most of what he’s drawn, because his art is fascinating. His painted, angular, stylish work makes him a superb artist for monsters (as well as a great artist for stories set in the past, which is why his alternate reality Batgirl/Robin stories with Howard Chaykin are so nice-looking), and so he’s drawn a lot of monsters his entire career, turning the Nocturnals into a “realistic” Addams Family, almost, as a family of strange-looking people with strange abilities who are just trying to get along in the world. His designs are terrific, too. Doc Horror is a typical leading-man type, with the sharpest Van Dyke you’re ever going to see and just enough tousle and gray in his thick black hair to make any woman (and more than a few men) weak in the knees. His daughter, Eve, has Rogue-ish white streaks in her hair, but otherwise looks like a typical teenager … except she can see and talk to the spirits that possess her dolls. They hang out with the Gunwitch, a raggedy-andy who wears a kicky witches’ hat and whose mouth is sewn shut (one would think Doc would look into that, but I guess he’s been busy). Polychrome is a ghost who has taken a maternal role with Eve, while Starfish, the other main woman in the book, is a gun-toting mermaid who has drawn the eye of Bandit, the raccoon-man tough guy whose schemes in this book set the plot in motion. Brereton draws Starfish with a larger top lip than bottom, giving her a vaguely fishy look, while small starfish cling to her body and hair. She has webbed hands and feet, of course, and looks very spooky. Bandit, meanwhile, appears as if you actually crossed a man with a raccoon, with a furry “mask” and a tail. The two main “villains” of the book (they’re not wonderful people, to be sure, but they have their reasons) are Throne and Nyx, and Brereton does nice work with them, too. Thorne looks like a disaffected 1960s London youth, with a leather jacket that would look great on him when he’s tooling around on a scooter, while Nyx is draped in autumn leaves (luckily they cover her breasts just so!). Brereton gives us a beautifully creepy haunted house, with weird, spider-webbed junk in the attic to jail cells in the basement, but he also does a fine job with the bar that Bandit owns, bringing the family into a real-world setting and showing how they both fit in (no one is terribly surprised at their presence, because they know all about the monsters) and how they’re apart (just because everyone knows who they are doesn’t mean everyone accepts them). He draws very weird, Lovecraftian spirits that rise from Eve’s dolls, terrorizing those who would do her harm. It seems like it’s always autumn in Doc’s world, so Brereton draws a lot of twisted, leaf-less trees, framing the action like rickety bones and exposed blood vessels. Brereton has never been great at action, as his figures always seem a bit too posed, but he does a decent job, and they are posed “correctly” for what they’re doing, which is nice. And his colors are superb – he uses a base orange/blue complementary palette, but he does a nice job adding others into the mix, and even when he’s using blue, the book never gets too dark. He uses the paints to shade his characters’ faces, too, giving their expressions nice nuances as they talk about what’s going on and as they try to work through their emotions. It’s a beautiful book, which shouldn’t be that surprising with regard to Brereton.

The story is solid, which is all it really needs to be. Bandit, who’s a bit of a bad boy, has a job to do, one he’s not confident about. Later, an old gangster friend of Doc’s asks him to go to a dead judge’s house and find the files the judge kept on everyone, which is the job Bandit was going to do, except he’s disappeared. Of course the house is creepy, and of course there are strange things in the attic, and of course they find barred cells in the basement, where the judge apparently kept strange creatures locked up for some perverse reason. Eve finds a possessed doll whose spirit is a young boy, and we’re introduced to Nyx and Thorne, who are connected to the judge, of course. The Gunwitch even has a connection to the judge, but he’s not talking. Brereton tells an interesting story about horror and what it does to people, as Thorne and Nyx have both been through horror and now they don’t know how to live their lives. They’re defined by their pasts, and only one seems interested in moving beyond it. In his books, Brereton has always been sympathetic to the weird, and in a world where there are so many “weird” people, that’s not surprising. But what he’s good at is showing us the humanity in all his characters, for good or for bad, so even an old mobster can be a nice person in some ways and even a “nice” monster like the Gunwitch can have a very dark side. It’d be easy to simply make all the “regular” people in these comics evil and make the “freaks” the nice ones, but Brereton is too smart for that. The story isn’t too surprising, but he does a good job getting us through it. Toward the end, we get two strange epilogues that imply far more Nocturnals comics, which I would not object to at all.

The Sinister Path is gorgeous, which isn’t a surprise, and Brereton tells a nice story to go with all the superb art. It’s not a bad place to begin if you’ve never read any Nocturnals comics, and you should always be down for more of Brereton’s artwork! (And as always, if you’re interested, you can follow the link below and I get a piece of it. Even if you don’t get this book, you can do some Christmas shopping, and if you use the link, I still get a small piece of it!)

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

4 Comments

  1. Edo Bosnar

    I really love Brereton’s art – I find it slightly similar to the work of another of my favorites, Joe Staton. But except for some stuff I’ve seen posted (like here), the only book I have with his art is the excellent Thrillkiller (with Chaykin) that you sort of mentioned in the post.
    So yeah, at some point I’m probably going to have to read some Nocturnals, although my completist impulse will drive me to start from the start…

    1. Greg Burgas

      Edo: Both of your points are interesting. I don’t really see Staton very much – the angular style, sure, but other than that, not too much. I do like Staton, so I’m not saying that just because I don’t want to equate the two. And I enjoyed Thrillkiller (both series), but didn’t love them, mainly because I thought Chaykin’s writing was just mediocre. Yes, it looked great, and I liked the idea, but Chaykin’s writing is always kind of hit-or-miss with me, and it was just fine on Thrillkiller, but nothing special.

  2. Jeff Nettleton

    I go back to the beginning, with Nocturnals, when it was published at Malibu’s Bravura imprint; and all the way back to The Black Terror, with Brereton, with Chuck Dixon and Beau Smith (at Eclipse). Truly awesome alternate history/superhero/noir series, where Al Capone ruled and Eliot Ness operated from the shadows, via his agent, the Black Terror.

    I used to have the marketing tie-in button that DC put out, for The Psycho, back in the day. No idea what happened to it (disappeared with my Watchmen smiley face button).

Leave a Reply