Vertigo's new horror series The Dark & Bloody has taken some strange turns in the last couple issues, combining horrors of war with a creepy rural American horror story.
Featuring art by Scott Godlewski, the story by writer Shawn Aldridge has shown how Iris Gentry, a veteran who returned from Iraq to his hometown in Kentucky, has stood by while terrible things have happened around him.
But some of those horrors followed him home, and now there's a monster in town who's looking for revenge for the deeds committed by Iris' regiment in Iraq.
In The Dark & Bloody #4 this week, the monster made it into Iris' home, as his wife Sarah was attacked and his son Shiloh has disappeared.
Newsarama talked to Aldridge and Godlewski to talk about how Iris' previous indecision and inaction have brought him to this point, and what comes next as he finally makes a decision that changes the story for himself and his family.
Newsarama: Shawn, the last couple issues have really revealed a lot, and the events in this week's issue bring the stakes into Iris' family. Do you feel like this is a turning point for the series?
Shawn Aldridge: Yeah. Issue #3 was a turning point, but this issue brings it full force into the family. The entire family is impacted now. Before it had been the peripheral, and Iris dealing with what he thought was a monster, or what he thought might have just been him going crazy.
But now, the stakes are higher, with Sarah getting attacked and Shiloh getting taken.
Nrama: The addition of Elijah Cooper, the wise, older, knowledgeable guy — how did you come up with his character?
Aldridge: I wanted someone who could verify what Iris is going through, who could tell Iris, look, you're not crazy.
And I wanted him to be someone different, as opposed to a guy who just knows everything.
It's also reflective of every small town I've ever lived in growing up — they all had that one sort of weird guy that everybody thought was maybe crazy, who everybody knows. In my hometown, it was a guy named Birddog. Or he was nicknamed Birddog, I guess — that wasn't his real name. And everybody knew him. He was the guy that wandered around Main Street. You were bound to run into him.
And also, we once lived in this double-wide trailer, me and my family, which I always imagined was haunted (because I was like 10, right?) and the landlord was just the scariest looking dude I'd ever seen. He was an older gentleman, in his like 60's, who had one blind eye, and then his other one was kind of a crazy eye anyway, so it would just move around freely. And that solidified in my 10-year-old mind that this place wasn't right.
So Elijah is kind of based on an amalgamation on the weird people I knew growing up in small towns in Kentucky.
Newsarama: Scott, let's talk about the visual approach to the comic. How did you guys come up with the look for some of these things? I mean, this issue, we got to see the monster that's really inside the little girl Ayah. Can you talk about the art on this series?
Scott Godlewski: I've had a lot of help from Shawn. He actually provided a lot of reference material. So I had a really easy job coming up with the look of everybody.
But I think the creature in particular is a design that I'm very proud of. That might be my favorite thing that I've ever put on paper. I think we did a couple passes on her face until we got to the beak thing. But yeah, I'm really happy with it. That's one for my portfolio.
Nrama: The story has a rural feel to it, yet because it's associated with the war, it feels much larger than just a "creepy small town" story. Was it a challenge visually to draw a story that exists in both those worlds?
Godlewski: Yeah, going from the rural, woodsy setting to Iraq was kind of a pain. I mean, if I never have to draw another Marine in my life I think I'll be happy with that.
Nrama: Shawn, can you tell us what's coming up in the story?
Aldridge: The last two issues get really dark. For the slow burn that the first two issues may have been in people's opinion, the last two are the exact opposite. Iris finally builds up the courage, he finally realizes what has to be done. And it's hard to say what it is without giving a big spoiler away.
But he makes the decision he has to make in order to protect his family. And it's probably the first time that he makes a decision that isn't just sort of "sit back." Because, you know, the theme of the one with the puppies, even though he didn't want to do it, it was sort of like, well, this is the way of life. And then when we get to issue #3, which is the war scene and we realize why this thing is after him, again, inaction is what's brought this about.
So these major moments in his life have always been scarred by his indecision or lack of, I don't want to say courage, because I don't think he's a coward. I just think he's a person who's never gotten to the point of, "I have to do something." It's like, "I want to do it, but I don't want to mess up my own life too." It's almost a selfishness.
So issue #5 is the issue where he stops being inactive, in a way that's really pretty brutal.
Nrama: So a lot of action.
Aldridge: Yeah, it's non-stop after that. We get the rest of the scene that ended issue #4. And all the pieces get set for the final confrontation that involves everyone.
I can tell you that Eric gets his just due, and I think people will like what happens next. We get a call back to issue #1 and the puppies in a really whacked out way, characters get nice moments, and I think the final issue helps spin the book into a way that horror stories might not normally play out. As we've learned in previous issues, the monster — there's some sympathy there, with Ayah being a product of war, like Iris is too.
And the artwork just keeps getting more and more beautiful. The entire series has looked fantastic. I think Scott — and this takes nothing away from his first issues at all, because I think they were awesome — but I think with issue #4, and seeing the pages from #5, it reaches a climax as far as the beauty of the art. It kind of makes me wish I'd written it 12 issues. It's all great, but it's really beautiful now.