‘Silent Hill Downpour: Anne’s Story’ Comic Review
Silent Hill Downpour: Anne’s Story is an upcoming horror comic collection, set in the Silent Hill universe, and published by IDW Publishing. Collecting the four issue miniseries of the same name, and totaling out at 104 pages, it is due to be released on March 17, 2015. The miniseries is an expansion of the plot behind the 2012 game, Silent Hill Downpour, and gives us a look at events from one of the main in-game antagonist’s point of view. The story is handled by Tom Waltz (who was also part of the writing team for the game), with art by Tristan Jones, and colors by Michael Spicer.
After a brief, bare-bones intro that quickly introduces the main characters and setting, the story begins with corrections officer Anne Marie Cunningham hanging on for dear life, dangling over a large ravine. As she falls, the story flashes backwards, exploring the events that led up to this moment; Anne and a few other officers showing up for a routine prison transfer, her apparent hatred for one of the prisoners (a man named Murphy Pendleton), and the prison bus running off the road and wrecking in the stormy weather.
Coming to, after being knocked out in the accident, Anne witnesses Murphy making a break for it, and chases after him on foot. Briefly cornering the prisoner, she takes a misstep, and ends up tumbling down the aforementioned ravine (strangely, the man she hates attempts to save her). Awakening from unconsciousness, once again, she finds herself in a shadowy world, beset by many strange and terrifying visions. She has unwittingly been drawn into the environs of Silent Hill, and these visions are but the first of many that are yet to come. Driven by her shared history with Murphy to enact vengeance on the escaped prisoner, she struggles on, but her every secret will soon be brought to light, including the violent events that link her to Pendleton. Depending upon her ability to piece together the meaning behind her visions, and the course of action that she takes, Anne may still be able to find her way back to reality.
Making potential readers aware of this up front, the story only minimally attempts to bring a new reader up to speed, so anyone who hasn’t played the game (or researched the two linked releases on the web) might find this collection a bit hard to get into. The story is based around some unreleased downloadable content from the game, which is readily apparent, and plays out like a reward for beating the original game (good job gamer, now play through from a different character’s viewpoint). The first 3/4’s of the release are a real challenge to get into, with the constant shifting of reality and temporal perspective not helping matters, and the entire flow of the story suffers because of these aspects.
The writer’s attempts at character development seem to be based around the idea of piling more and more horrible events upon the main character, with her stoically soldiering on, allowing her life to fall apart around her. Instead of questioning events, or attempting to move on with her life, she stays locked in step, until she loses everything… and then the magical MacGuffin shows itself, in this case the visions and experiences endured while in the Silent Hill setting, which attempt to show her the error of her ways. This approach might work in a more immersive/linear setting, such as a video game, but it falls flat when introduced as a graphic series. Many of the character’s choices, events that take place in their backstory, and the overall handling of the story are highly flawed. There is no real sense of horror created by the writer’s plot, the main characters never seem to face a legitimate threat, and the end of the story is highly suspect. If Anne would have dug a bit deeper into events initially, she could have spared herself the entire slog of a journey (along with the readers), and actually ended up in a better place.
The art by Tristan and colors by Michael are both effective, capturing the mood of the setting, with Tristan working in a sketchy, roughed-in style, which shines when he is depicting the characters’ emotional spectrum. His use of space in his compositions are also a strength, but his depictions of the more horrifying and outlandish characters tend to miss the mark. I’m not sure if he was working with preexisting character designs, as far as the more monstrous denizens of Silent Hill goes, but a more ‘out there’, less restrained approach would have been much more appreciated. His depiction of the action sequences are dynamically presented, and his panel placement helps guide the reader through this morass of a release. Unfortunately, his attempt at linear storytelling is undermined by the writer’s plot choices and storytelling technique, despite his best efforts.
Michael’s coloring work does a good job of keeping up with the attempted unending grimness of the tale, working mainly with darker colors to mimic the source material, while interspersing brighter colors (usually red, take that as you will this being a horror release) as needed. His coloring work is the opposite of slick, which I highly appreciate, as it reinforces the grittiness of the release. His texture work is laudable, and he works with the primary artist, not against him, enhancing the finished artwork. Both Michael and Tristan are on-point, but the narrative works against them, letting both of them (and the reader) down. The failure of this release doesn’t rest with either of them, it lands squarely in the lap of the writer, and with the source material.
Overall, this release merits a pass. While the art and coloring stands up to scrutiny (despite minor flaws), the initial storyline lacks any thrills, is willfully obtuse, and comes off as extremely two-dimensional. Lacking both depth and breadth, characterization and nuance, the core audience that this is directed towards are rabid fans of the original game. IDW’s choice to release a game tie-in at this juncture is puzzling, especially since this is an older game, and they would have been better served by releasing more original stories set in the Silent Hill universe. A disappointing release from a publisher that I usually trust.