Pulp fiction murder mystery meets supernatural Viking thriller: "We Don't Kill Spiders" #1 REVIEW

We Don’t Kill Spiders #1. Writing & Art: Joseph Schmalke; Letters: DC Hopkins; Edits: Shawn French; Cover: Joseph Schmalke.

Warning: Potential Spoilers Ahead

Cover by Joseph Schmalke

Scout Comics’ Black Caravan imprint delivers an interesting genre mashup in its newest title, the 3-issue miniseries We Don’t Kill Spiders. Noir, pulpy detective story meets supernatural Viking thriller in a murder mystery that kept me slack jawed and curious. After an introduction that sees the brutal axe-murdering of a whole family, Viking detective (yeah, you read that right) Bjorn is summoned by the community’s jarl (chief). Bjorn, an atheist viking, is asked by the jarl to solve the murders of five separate families, a task that pairs him with an exiled witch named Revna. With heavy line-work, ethereal colors, and to-the-point dialogue, We Don’t Kill Spiders #1 is a welcome installment to the Black Caravan imprint.

Prose and Art by Joseph Schmalke

Feathered lines are used for shadows, a method that lends an almost brutal aesthetic to every panel. It seems every object in a given panel is cast in stark lighting that empowers these thick lines, to provide only those details we need to understand. By this I mean that a given character’s face presented in stark shadows and light conveys harsher emotionality. Sources of light are shown with very little interior linework, only sporting those few border lines needed to tell the reader “this fire is a fire”. Every panel is rife with hyperbolic expression that is very reminiscent of the old pulp fictions that began the noir detective tradition. This transfers to the character illustrations as well. The harsh, exaggerated lines convey the maximum epic-ness that is expected from Vikings. Furs, helms, and (almighty) beards complete the heroic aesthetic, while contrasting the noir-darkened settings to create the genre-bending effect that makes this title so interesting to me. One character whose depiction impresses me the most is that of Revna, the witch. Her house sigil being the spider (hint hint at the meaning of the title) her physical characterization reflects this sigil well. Spider-like appendages sprout from her headdress, while her own physicality is lanky and pale, a clear reflection of her sigil.

Prose and Art by Joseph Schmalke

Writer Schmalke knows what he’s doing. While exposition is a necessity and dialogue is needed (for the most part) to convey this, Bjorn’s character adheres to terse statements and questions. Bjorn’s berserker-turned-Dick Tracy vibe is an obvious love letter to the detective genre — I know I’m harping on the noir aspects, but you all can deal with it. The only non-believer in a community of pagans, Bjorn’s reactions and assumptions already give him a unique perspective in his investigation that I found delightful. Bjorn is a hardened, haunted, and haughty character that partners well with Revna’s mystic, maladjusted, and mischievous character. There isn’t a lot of “show-don’t-tell” story work done here, but I also believe the mash-up of genres allows for this.

Color plays a huge part of this issue, at least to me. Lots of blues and oranges create the contrast of dark and light that I reflected on previously, but this strict adherence to dual colors makes the inclusion of other colors more impactful. This is exemplified by the use of purple when magick (yeah, I’m gonna use the fun spelling) is in use on a given page. Purple acts as a disruption, both to the Viking community and Bjorn himself. The former is disrupted when purple reflects a curse cast upon them while Bjorn is disrupted — in his beliefs (or lack thereof) — when he meets Revna, and she is cast amid a purple aura. Every aspect of this issue seemed purposefully geared towards conveying story, an achievement I valued as I pounced upon every provided panel with an almost panicked fervor.

Prose and Art by Joseph Schmalke

I highly recommend this title. I can’t account for the foreseeable future, but this first issue has given me hope that the following two issues will be just as finely executed as its foundation. You can pick this book up at your LOCAL COMIC BOOK SHOP or from Scout Comics themselves! Also check out some other Black Caravan titles such as Tales Told in Techni-Horror, Providence of Madness, and The Black Electric Presents!

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