Written by Antony Johnston
Penciled by Mike Norton
Inked by Leanne Buckley
144 pages, black and white
Published by Oni Press

So often these days you read comics that feel less like projects in their own right, but more like storyboards or pitches for movies. Inevitably, those sort of projects never really click in comics because they aren’t aiming themselves at the format that they’re being published in. I think that’s why Closer jumped out at me; it never feels like it’s trying to be anything but a really good graphic novel, which is perhaps why by the end all I could think was “you know, I bet a movie producer’s going to snap up the rights to this book”. Go figure!

In a remote mansion in New England, an experiment went horribly wrong thirty years ago. Now the surviving members of the project are assembled once more for what could be a tremendous breakthrough from the one person still working on the theories all these years. What they will find, though, is something no one is prepared for…

Antony Johnston’s script for Closer has everything I’m looking for in a horror novel; rich atmosphere, creepy ideas, and surprises lurking around the corner when I least expect them. Early on I thought I knew what was going on with Closer, but Johnston is careful to keep from letting you really know everything that’s happening in his story. The end result is that the uncertainties keep just enough a mystery that you’ve got to find out what happens next, even though you just know that what might be waiting for you is going to be disaster for the characters. My one quibble with Closer is that several plot points seem almost like blind luck (both good and bad) than anything else. Don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely intelligence involved in some of the characters’s actions, but the dumb luck that crops up just seems to be a little too coincidental for such huge plot points. (I’m also not entirely sure on how the disruption of the modern-day experiment—one of those pieces of bad luck—does or doesn’t fit into Butcher’s plans for the experiment. There’s a number of ways that it can be interpreted as either really part of a huge master plan, or alternately as just coincidence that it turned out that way, but it’s hard to say which way is a more preferable answer.) Fortunately, the big ideas of Closer more than outweigh the small problem I had with the book, to say nothing of the introduction of Serena Cumberland into comics. She’s a great protagonist: smart but not too smart, able to piece together information but just as likely to set it on fire. She’s wonderfully human, something that so few protagonists have in fiction, and if Johnston was to write another graphic novel starring Serena I’d definitely buy it.

This is the first time I’ve seen Mike Norton work with inker Leanne Buckley, but I think everyone else who’s seen their collaboration on Closer will agree that hopefully it’s not the last time. Norton’s always been very good at drawing people, giving everyone their own unique look and bringing them to life on the page. Buckley takes it one step further with her inks, giving the characters a sharp edge about them, adding depth with graytones and shading effects all over the page. The end result is that Norton’s normal clean and fresh looking art has a darker edge here; it’s a beautiful match for Johnston’s story, letting the creepy and spooky elements really shine (or should that be gloom?) on the page. Special note also has to go to Norton and Buckley for how well they make the setting of Closer work; a creepy old mansion full of Egyptian artifacts could come across as extremely stereotypical but instead it comes across as creepy while still little more than a snooty, expensive design choice than anything straight out of a horror movie. (Until, of course, the characters realize that they’re in the movie, so to speak, and then it’s too late for them.)

Like I said before, Closer never feels like it’s trying to be anything more than a really good horror graphic novel, but it would definitely make one hell of a good movie too. (Thanks to the photo cover, the neat logo, and the tagline “distance means nothing” it’s even got a potential movie poster already ready to go.) This is a book that would make the transition well because the focus is on telling a good story, period. Once you’ve got that down pat, moving it from one form of entertainment to another is a piece of cake. Johnston, Norton, and Buckley have done a fine job here.

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