Fans of the Stranger Things franchise across the globe have been enjoying Dark Horse’s recent series of the same name. The art and story have stuck close to the tone of the Netflix television series while adding its own perspective into the mix.
STRANGER THINGS #4 wraps up Will Byers’ journey into “the Upside Down” dimension and his loved ones’ attempt to rescue him. But it also goes deeper than your standard, straightforward story. This concluding issue gives the reader a look in a person’s life after they’ve experienced a traumatic event, illustrating depression and its lingering effects.
Jody Houser’s story picks up with a frightened Will navigating the mirror-version of the forest in Hawkins, Indiana. He’s spent the majority of the previous issues finding a way back to our dimension while trying to avoid detection from the Demogorgon, a horrific monster that brought him into the Upside Down.
Will the Wise
Issue #4’s beauty lies in its ability to perfectly capture Will’s internal thoughts and feelings of depression through the narration and illustrations.
While Will is going over his predicament, the panel shifts to the alter-ego from his Dungeons & Dragons campaign – Will the Wise. It shows us Will slowly transforming into a mighty wizard traveling across a fantastical realm. This is how Will sees himself, even in the midst of such dire straits. The dreariness of the Demogorgon and the Upside Down effectively represents his depression while the wizard persona stands for his struggle against it.
Stefano Martino, Aleksi Briclot, Keith Champagne, and Lauren Affe’s collective artwork sets the tone of this issue in a beautiful yet unsettling way. For instance, the field Will imagines is filled with thorns and mists, emphasizing the difficulty one faces when trying to live his or her life in the midst of depression. The panel also shows Will staring at a castle in the distance, a giant structure that remains cloaked in shadow. This castle is Fort Byers and Will’s last hope of escape from the Demogorgon.The story’s events serve a double-meaning: Fort Byers is both a literal make-shift shack that can hide him as well as a metaphor for the fortified defenses we create in our minds to stand against depression. They’re often something familiar yet extravagant, serving as our shield against those negative thoughts and emotions. Will chooses Fort Byers as his defense and imagines its strength to be much greater than it is.
But as we will eventually see, the fortresses we build up for ourselves eventually crumble.
Ups and Downs
Will is rejuvenated by the hope Fort Byers offers – a literal refuge that ties him back to the real world. This serves as a coping mechanism to protect himself against the ever-encroaching darkness. But this too is eventually tainted by the darkness of the Upside Down as the Demogorgon hones in on Will’s location.
The Upside Down as Depression
Will’s mishaps in the Upside Down give us a hauntingly accurate depiction of a person experiencing depression. The elated feelings he goes through after finding Fort Byers are immediately followed by the encroaching monster moving toward his location. No matter how much Will tries to be positive, the negative forces represented by the Demogorgon and the Upside Down find a way to crush all hope of escape.
A Real Look at Depression
Rather than treating depression as a trivial feeling, one can simply push past, the Stranger Things series highlights the true hopelessness one experiences. We’re able to connect with Will’s real feelings in the midst of a made-up world.
Readers will have to wait and see how Will’s story concludes. If you’re a fan of the franchise and want to see a psychological look at Will’s journey through the Upside Down, pick up a copy of STRANGER THINGS #4 on January 2, 2019.