Writer: Lauren Beukes & Dale Halvorson
Artist: Ryan Kelly (#1-3), Inaki Miranda (#4)
Colors: Eva De La Cruz
Cover: Bill Sienkiewicz
Picture this: you get an email out of the blue from a random stranger saying that your name is on a long list of individuals who all seem to be missing or dead with the exception of you and five others. Every person on that list experienced something tragic as a child and the writer of this email, Chenzira Molenko, is convinced that it is all connected. Now what? Do you meet with these individuals or walk away from this slightly insane scenario?
Welcome to Survivors’ Club, where nightmares come to life, imaginary friends aren’t so imaginary, and that crushing weight on your back isn’t just a metaphorical demon. We’ve got haunted houses, exorcists, deadbeat parents, and possibly more than one psychopath. What’s not to love about this series? Survivors’ Club is written by the lovely horror/scifi writer Lauren Beukes (The Shining Girls, Broken Monsters) and her friend Dale Halvorson, a book cover designer/illustrator who works under the alter ego Joey Hi-Fi. The pair are joined by artist Ryan Kelly (Lucifer, Local), and guest artist Inaki Miranda (Coffin Hill) in issue #4. The beautifully dark cover art is done by Bill Sienkiewicz (Marvel Comics’ The New Mutants, Elektra: Assassin) and the phenomenal coloring is done by Eva De La Cruz.
In the beginning we are introduced to six different characters, each with their own traumatic childhood experiences. Chenzira Molenko, the woman who brings them together, grew up in South Africa where she watched her father become an alcoholic after her mother was killed in police custody. As a child, Molenko turned to arcade games to pass the time until one specific game, Akheron, opened a portal to hell and caused a freak storm that burned down the arcade and killed her father. Harvey Lisker doesn’t actually show up to the “Survivors’ Club” meeting, and soon after we begin to suspect why. Lisker is not your average serial killer/psychopath; his childhood imaginary friend, Mr. Empty, began shaping his life when he was young, and continues to influence his decisions now. Simon Wickman grew up as a horror icon after his traumatic experience of living in the “Muskagee” house was exploited by some crazy exorcists with a get rich quick scheme. Despite his actual childhood traumas it becomes apparent that fame played a hand in turning him into an egotistical creep. Kiri Nomura is a strange individual whom we learn very little about in the first few issues. Although she seems a bit shy, she often talks seemingly to herself in Japanese. Alice Taylor-Newsome appears as a kind character with a dark side, and has a handful of secrets she’d like to keep to herself. Teo Reyes is the group skeptic, and aside from his bug hallucinations and strange vampire-like bite marks on his neck we know very little about him.
In the first four issues we really begin to see the development of some of the characters as they become more consumed by Chenzira’s quest to find out more about the evil video game, Akheron. We discover more dark secrets in each of their pasts and are shown how each character lives with these secrets. Teo begins to question his sanity and lose his initial skepticism as he witnesses the horrors Akheron is capable of with his own eyes. Simon finally acknowledges that it’s his own fault that his family fell apart, and I think there may be hope for his character in the future. Lisker remains a serial killer, but we will soon see what kind of person he has truly become when Mr. Empty takes a vacation. Alice definitely has some interesting development as we see her switch to her duplicate, who seems to be the “bad girl,” and we learn some valuable information about her mortality. Kiri is the quiet one with an enormous secret that she handles quite well. Her development as a character will become more apparent in later issues, but her ability to cope with her demons is quite impressive. Chenzira remains the group leader as her own obsession with the video game leads to them finding more of Akheron’s victims. She remains adamant that all of their childhood traumas were connected, but the truth remains to be seen.
The art in Survivors’ Club is beautifully descriptive and is filled with unspoken details that are essential to the story. Kelly shows us snippets of the character’s lives through newspaper clippings, flashbacks, and confidential files. These images carry secrets they aren’t keen on sharing, but are necessary for the reader to fully understand the story. It can be easy to lie when telling a story, simply by leaving out important information, especially when said information makes you a criminal. The art adds depth to the characters through their various facial expressions and reactions to things said. What I really love about this series is Kelly’s ability to sneak in missing information when characters stray from the truth. On a side note, issue #4 is a bit different from the others simply because it is set on what I believe to be another plane within the Muskagee house, and Miranda does a fantastic job staying true to the tone of the story while also giving us some strange background information on the Wickmans.
From what I’ve read so far, I would guess that this is a horror fanatic’s dream come true. There are demons, spirits, possessed video games, exorcists, cannibalism and the strangest dolls I have ever seen. As a person who avoids horror at all costs I found that this series was just the right amount of scary without threatening to reach out and choke me. In addition to being frightening it is also extremely gripping. Each page is drenched in information, yet simultaneously raises more questions that you feel you need to have answered. From the very beginning you’re tossed into a story that doesn’t seem to make any sense. How could any of these horrific yet completely different scenarios be related? As the survivors meet for the first time you feel as skeptical as they do, yet the story pulls you in deeper as they begin to make connections and you’ll suddenly find yourself impatiently waiting for the next issue to be released. Thankfully issue #5 came out this past Wednesday, February 3rd!