Bad Reception from AfterShock Comics is a modern horror about a collection of friends who gather for a wedding and go off grid with no internet, no phones, and no contact with the outside world. What could possibly go wrong?
Chapter one, Vows, sets the scene by making the reader follow a trail of blood through the darkness in one of the most ambitious opening gambits in any comic this year. Juan Doe, creator, writer and artist on the comic, engages a risky approach to bringing the reader into the story. The first third of the comic contains caption boxes of a radio interview overlaid onto a black background with an expanding red trail splitting the page in two.
The trail starts like a sound wave, representing the radio interview but grows as the interview becomes more intense until a double page reveal hammers home the true nature of the trail. Doe slowly builds up tension, making the reader question where this opening is going and the anticipation he creates pays off on that double page; it’s a jaw dropper of a moment.
The openings strength lies in introducing the two main elements of the story in a very simple, minimalistic way. The trail of blood leads ultimately to the murder aspect of the comic, something that will be picked up in later issues, while the radio conversation sets out the Technological element of the story. It introduces the reader to the concept of Nomophobia, the fear of no-mobile-phone, which in turn explains a large part of the character’s personalities and reactions further down the line.
The opening is bold and daring. The number of pages it takes up illustrates Doe’s commitment to the cause but could in fact put some people off. This is not how a mainstream comic would handle this type of story. Doe takes his time, making sure that he makes his point without rushing it. He teases the reader for several pages, making them wait for the payoff.
If this comic is going to lose any readers, it will be in those first few pages. If you make it to the end of the opening still engrossed, the shock factor alone will see you through the rest of the comic. If you skip a head you will not be invested enough to continue with the comic.
Characters Good And Bad
Doe’s lettering and coloring in the opening of Bad Reception is very straightforward but is an approach that works particularly well for this type of story. The Radio conversation has formulated caption boxes with two colors, one for each speaker. It makes it very clear on each page who is talking.
As the story progresses Doe uses contrasting colors on the page to highlight different aspects of the plot. The top two thirds of each page are given over to introducing the characters. Doe has his two central characters compile a wedding guest list and then shows each guest being invited to the wedding. This is a beautiful way of introducing the characters and each of their relationships with the happy couple.
Doe changes the panel coloring for each guest to distinguish between them on a page and give some instinctive indication of their personality. Doe’s protagonists have a warm, emotional red tinge that also foreshadows future events, as indicated by the opening.
To contrast all of the guests introductions, there is another character being introduced in the bottom third of each page. There is no text, no speech to give the reader any clues as to who it is but there is a lot to indicate what kind of person it is. The colouring is a mix of blood red and deep, cold blues. The actions portrayed are violent and merciless. Doe juxtaposes the introductions on each page comparing the technological needy, carefree friends and family of the couple with the wild, off the grid character in the bottom third of the comic.
This approach to storytelling constantly underlines the threat to the characters. With the bottom third being used in this way Doe is able to keep that element of violence in the reader’s mind on every turn of the page; you simply cannot escape from it. This creates additional tension and builds suspense perfectly. Doe is able to introduce a large number of characters while maintaining a disturbing, lingering atmosphere.
This is a difficult first issue. Doe has a lot to introduce in the way of characters and concepts but he manages to do it with an element of flair and panache. There are a number of complex characters that Doe introduces and each is an individual from the moment they appear on the page. The framing of the story allows a naturalistic introduction and the layout of the pages allows Doe to create an unsafe environment for the reader. He does not let you forget the violence at the heart of the story as introduced in that opening gambit.
The bold opening and the approach that Doe has chosen, may put some people off. This is a challenging comic with some moments more challenging than others. However, if you commit to it, allow yourself to get lost in this world Doe has created, the payoff from each section is wonderfully handled and will make you want the next chapter straight away.
Although Bad Reception is set up like a slasher movie, with the psychopath preparing to kill the misbehaving teenagers, anyone who has read a murder mystery story will know that it’s not going to be that simple. Juan Doe has created an unnerving and engaging opening issue with clever, atmospheric panels that draw the reader relentlessly across the page. Find a safe place to read this comic because there is no safety contained within.