October 9, 2010

Studio 407’s Night & Fog: When Science Goes Wrong Things Get Interesting!

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Written by: Andy
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Studio 407 is an independent publisher whose main focus is producing horror comics, and Night & Fog is a bloodily satisfying representation of their work. Set in the present day with loose ties to World War II and Nazi human experimentation, plus some salutes to classic literature, Night & Fog is a roller coaster ride of science, monsters, and an example of when human ambition gets out of control. At its core, the book is a horrific story about science gone wrong. Night & Fog is written by Alex Leung and Matthew Bradford, drawn by Roberto Castro, with colors by J.M. Ringuet.

On the surface, the plot is rather familiar: a small team of disaster survivors attempt to make their way out of a monster infested laboratory. However, there is more to it than that as the story envelops the four gothic elements of classical literature in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Invisible Man, Frankenstein, and Dracula, which will be explored later. Off the Coast of Nova Scotia is the island of Cape Sable; on this island is a hidden lab where the U.S. government is secretly attempting to develop a “Smart Soldier” serum, which allows the user to adapt to any environment. This is accomplished through four separate stages, which when joined together create the Smart Soldier serum. These stages include an insurmountable rage, an ability to digest whatever is in one’s immediate controlled surroundings, the capability to reflect light which results in camouflage, and the regeneration of any body part within a 12 hour period (see the gothic elements referenced above). Sounds pretty cool in theory, but in Night & Fog, the serum is far from perfect and nowhere near ready for human testing.

So when a brutal storm hits the Coast of Nova Scotia, and three bold fishermen get caught in the fray, Lt. Nathan Christoper, Chief of Security, must leave the experimental base and play the role of rescuer. Why? Because the lab he is charged to protect is donning the facade of a Canadian army reserve base, and to sit idly by while a trio of fishermen get lost at sea would be out of character for “reserve forces.” The rescue goes off without a hitch, until the helicopter crashes into the main lab room, shattering vial upon vial of Smart Soldier serum. The serum alters its chemical makeup into gas form and quickly spreads throughout the facility, turning anyone it makes contact with into a horrific monster with super powered abilities. This is when things start to get nasty and the bloodshed begins!

So what’s the World War II/Nazi connection? Well I won’t spoil it here, but essentially it hearkens back to when the Nazi’s were reportedly experimenting on human subjects in order to create the ultimate super soldier. Night & Fog takes it one step further, while providing brief flashback scenes to the early 1940s when the Nazi’s were trying to make the theory a reality. It’s a subject I really enjoyed in the book, but wished it had been focused on more.

Robert Castro’s art is ok- the style fits the book nicely, but the inks were a little too heavy for my taste. This is especially noticeable in the beginning of the story because most of the characters look alike due to dark facial shading, making it difficult to identify whom is whom. Eventually you’ll get used to it though. However, I didn’t realize until the final chapter that the main female character was Lt. Christopher’s babysitter and not his wife, which I have to chalk up to the art hindering any representation of age. I do think the art was much stronger in the first portion of the book when compared to the latter half. Upon reflection, this has to be partially chalked up to the art looking rushed at the end, in addition to the coloring job; the palette of colors decreases as the book progresses, flattening out the art. Let it be known though that there are some truly awesomely gruesome moments in the story that had me chuckling with delight, and scrunching my face in disgust. Just see below for some examples.

Alex Leung and Matthew Bradford’s pacing is fast, as the action kicks off pretty early on in the book. They write a decent, and wholly engaging story- transforming a rather basic formula into something unique via utilizing the four gothic literature elements. Even so, I couldn’t help but think of Resident Evil while reading Night & Fog, in that the plot is pretty much the same: vials break; gas leaks inside a facility; the workers there turn into monsters; a small band of survivors have to fight their way out; gas infects the town surrounding the laboratory (Raccoon City = Village of Baddock’s Bay). Although, there is no “Milla Jovovich” archetype in Fog, which is actually refreshing; not every horror story needs a half naked chick to be engaging. However, there were some ridiculous moments where if the style of the book was intended to be that of a B horror movie, than they are ok, but if the creative team was gunning for a more series vibe, these moments will cause the book to fall a little short.

For instance, when we see the first scientist turn into a monster- one that is supposed to be the baddest of the bad- an unaffected doctor hinders it with…pepper spray!? Yeah. It took away from displaying the strength and power of these creatures, especially when considering this was the first time we saw them. If pepper spray can slow’em down, how powerful can they really be? Something that initially bothered me too was that light is revealed to be one of the creatures’ major weaknesses, which didn’t jive with me at first; not only did we see earlier how the serum permits beings to reflect light in order to blend in with their environment, but these are supposed to be ultimate soldiers here, yet a little light is enough to stop them? Then I realized that the creatures are evolving, adapting the traits of the gothic characters; first we saw a Dr. Jekyll-esque transformation, this light issue deals with the vampiric qualities of Dracula, and at the very end of the book, another gothic stage is revealed. This wasn’t entirely clear to me from the onset, and the art could have helped tell this story better, but as I said- towards the end of the book the quality of the art did slacken a bit.

The story did start to lose steam towards the middle of the third issue, but hit a turning point when a crew of rugged, trigger-friendly, military types are ordered to swoop in and eliminate the monster threat at the lab. They all have goofy names like, “Jackass,” “Raptor,” and “Peaches,” but their presence kept things interesting. There’s a great reveal at the end of chapter 3, and I won’t ruin it here, but it nicely ties the WWII mythos together with the plot. The 4th chapter is the best of the book; secrets get revealed and the momentum really picks up, revitalizing the reader. However, some rough story telling moments towards the end, and a numerous amount of typos, really suck the energy out of the flow of the book. For instance, you know those trigger-happy military guys? We never see them actually land on the base, let alone shoot anything, so what was the point of including them in the volume? But on a more technical note, there were 4 pages that were double printed, about a half dozen grammar/spelling errors, and even a moment or two where the word balloons were pointing to inanimate objects (like a gun or a wall), making it impossible to decipher whom is speaking. I did read a prototype of the graphic novel, so I have to assume that when the official Night & Fog TPB hits stands next month, these errors will be rectified. If not though, it will seriously detract from the overall experience of the book.

Night & Fog ends on a grotesque cliffhanger, but has no real resolution; we never see the strike team do anything, nor do we truly see the threat of the monsters neutralized. It just sort of…ends. Obviously a vol. 2 is in store, and I hope it actually gets completed. Assuming the aforementioned technical errors get remedied, Night & Fog can be thoroughly enjoyed by any horror fan. It has its ups and downs, but for a relatively small indie publisher, its pretty damn cool.

The Night & Fog TPB was solicited in the September 2010 edition of Previews, so look for it on November 17th. For more information on the book, visit this website, and to read about Studio 407 click here! For more horror, check out this link.

Andy Liegl



  1. Billy

    Wow, sounds like this could have been a fantastic read if not for some inconsistencies. Like you said though, hopefully they’l take care of these things in the Tpb.

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