Growing up is scary. Fiction is replete with metaphors for adolescence. Horror especially has mined the depths of childhood psychology since before the genre was cool. As a result, us readers may think we’ve seen and read it all before. Something is Killing the Children Vol. 1 from Boom! Studios will convince you otherwise.
In a world that gave us Stranger Things and It, Something is Killing the Children appears to be riding a trend. The book features a shy teenage protagonist, a child-killing monster, and a police investigation, all standard tropes of the young adult sci-fi/horror genre. What sets SiKtC apart is its heroine and her intriguing subplot.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
Written by James Tynion IV and illustrated by Werther Dell’Edera, the book opens with a vignette in which a group of four boys play truth or dare. The game takes a turn when one of the boys doesn’t believe that James, our shy teenager, saw a monster outside his house.
We later learn that this monster is real and that it killed James’ friends. James was only spared because he tripped on a tree root and fell down the ravine where he claimed to have seen the monster. This convenient fall leads to James being questioned by police and accused of murder by his classmates.
The story proceeds realistically from there until we actually see the monster on page twenty-eight of issue one. At this point, James’ drama has dovetailed with the mission of Erica Slaughter, our mysterious heroine.
Erica hunts monsters. Equipped with a flip phone, two machetes, and a bandanna with a Cheshire cat grin on it, Erica is a badass. Sure, her only friend seems to be an octopus toy that may or may not be possessed by a spirit. And so what if she’s a bit aloof sometimes? Erica does not embody any “strong woman” stereotypes. What sets Erica apart is her maternal nature toward James and other children, always comforting and sympathizing in the face of horror.
It’s as if Erica is the consoling older figure we all wish we had when we were kids afraid of the dark. She’s honest without being harsh, and always affirms James’ feelings. Despite being a reluctant and imperfect person, Slaughter is the perfect intermediary between two worlds.
In the world of SiKtC, only kids can see monsters, like a more twisted version of the Polar Express motif. Erica is the only exception to this rule. This, along with her phone calls with an unidentified employer and her fake ID made of paper, make her alluring to the reader and to James. He pressures her to let him tag along on her hunt for the monster that killed his friends and other children in the town of Archer’s Peak.
James is a stand-in for the author while Erica might be Tynion’s ideal heroine. As he said in an interview with CBR.com, “We kind of live in this world of horror day-to-day and a lot of times we want somebody to just show up who knows how to face the horror we don’t know how to face….” Erica and James make for an oddly matched yet perfect pair, adding moments of levity to a heavy horror about killing children.
That said, the story is still a horror. It’s gory and tragic. Shades of dark blue and black highlight the ominous tone and contrast the bright red viscera. Moody grays and browns steep the story in the dull colors of obsession that another character, Tommy, feels regarding the disappearance of his younger sister.
Tommy gets sucked into the hunt after a chance meeting with Erica at his place of work, cheekily called Applebeams. Erica reveals that she knows Tommy’s sister is missing, which sends the wrong message to Tommy. He now believes Erica is his sister’s murderer.
Tommy stalks our heroes to a cave and ends up getting in the way of Erica killing the monster. The well-meaning idiot accidentally shoots James, freaking out about the monster. But Erica manages to kill the monster, and Tommy takes James and a girl who managed to survive out of there.
Still, the hunt isn’t quite over. Volume 1 ends with a delicious twist you may have seen coming if you’ve seen the Alien films. Will James survive? Who is Erica talking to on that flip phone?
Something is Killing the Children delivers on story and art in ways television can’t. It twists our childhood fears while providing a comfort for them. No doubt the next set of issues will up the ante.