WELLINGTON #5, available from IDW Publishing on September 2nd, drops the Duke of Wellington into a mine where he confronts the shape-shifting Barghest for a deadly showdown. Written by Aaron Mahnke and Delilah S. Dawson, this final issue in the arc feels like a modern take on the classic Penny Dreadfuls or a 19th-century stage play brought to graphic life.
Piotr Kowalski’s cover contributes to the distinctly 19th-century charm of the issue. A figure in silhouette stands out against the backlit cave as Wellington faces off with weapons in hand. I’m reminded of a classic Universal monster movie poster, and there’s just enough hidden to leave some surprises inside.
Mahnke and Dawson have written what comes across as a horror play you’d find on a small stage in the heart of London during the time of Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper. Nearly the entire issue is taken up with the Duke of Wellington sparring (physically and verbally) with the Barghest. The story feels very intimate in scope and outcome. I appreciated that the battle was as much a test of wills and wits more than weaponry.
Overall, there’s a quaint tone about this story that’s entertaining because of its old fashioned-ness and not despite it. This is a very different horror comic than anything out on the market right now, and I enjoyed it.
Kowalski’s art throughout the issue jam-packed with mood. The cave/mine scenes feel claustrophobic in how Kowalski keeps the backgrounds close to and on top of the characters. Long shadows permeate every panel to portray a feeling of malevolence and death. It’s almost as if you feel stuck in a primal trap with the Barghest, which makes the issue feel more dangerous.
Props to Kowalski for the sheer volume of characters to render. The shape-shifting Barghest cycles through a menagerie of animals and humans to act to taunt Wellington into making a fatal mistake. Of the group, two designs stand out. The wolf looks near photo-realistic but altered just enough to personify the malignance of night creatures from ancient legends. Very effective. Second, the final form of the Barghest is a genuinely terrifying take on Spring-heeled Jack. It’s “costume” looks a bit absurd, like some centuries-old Halloween costume, but like the wolf, it’s altered enough to project dangerous evil.
For such a small story, Kowalski pack in a lot of creepy mood and visual interest that’s quite effective.
Bard Simpson’s colors add to the creepy mood with outstanding use of shading to portray different types of light. The cave/mine walls flow in a kaleidoscope of torchlight hues. The Barghest melts and forms through sickly green ghost light. The final Barghest form blinds our hero with lightning blue fire. Simpson makes excellent use of muted color to amplify the mood and instill more energy into the infrequent bits of action.
Valeria Lopez makes some tremendous creative choices by switching up the lettering for Barghest as it cycles through each form. Overall, Lopez’s lettering is subtle, but each shape has its own distinctive voice. The subtlety of the wolf’s growl makes the character feel more controlled, which leaves the impression that something more powerful lies underneath its form. Likewise, the more humanoid Barhest forms are lettered and colored to seem otherwordly in their speech. I can imagine sound modulators being used on the stage in just the same way, adding to the stage play feel of the entire issue. This is an excellent example of adjusting the lettering to match the story’s tone.
WELLINGTON #5, available from IDW Publishing on September 2nd, is an intimate, Victorian play filled with genuine creepiness and interesting character designs. The story works as a definite end to the current arc and does a great job setting up the monster hunt to come. It is highly recommended for fans of Victorian horror.