The Devil Within #1: Suitably Scary but Stilted

Sam and Michelle stare in horror as a ghostly face bares down on them in The Devil Within #1 Cover A. Written by Stephanie Phillips and drawn by Maan House. Published by Black Mask Studios. 10 October, 2018

The Devil Within #1

Stephanie Phillips (Writer), Maan House (Artist), Dee Cunniffe (Colours)
Black Mask
10 October, 2018

Newly-engaged couple Sam and Michelle have just moved into an old property in Cebu, Philippines. They should be unpacking, but decide to go out on the town instead. Returning home late into the night, a very drunk Michelle decides to walk through the house’s hallway of mirrors. We’ve seen enough horror films to know that’s a bad idea.

the devil withinUnsuspecting, Michelle blames her drunkenness when she sees her reflection turn into a kind of devilish beast. Shaken, she goes to bed. A good night’s rest and Michelle is ready to take on the day. That’s until she finds Sam in the kitchen, staring at a scene of carnage. Everything in their kitchen has been smashed to the floor. Could this house be haunted?

Sam believes Michelle is being swayed by her childhood ghost stories. Besides, they have more realistic things to worry about, like a restraining order from Michelle’s ex, someone Sam has never even heard of. Can this relationship be salvaged? And what is going on with the mirrors?

I love that the central characters, Sam and Michelle, are lesbians. And their sexuality is incidental to the plot; this is a horror story that features a lesbian couple. That’s how stories should be. Diversity isn’t a category of writing; it’s the spice of life. Give us more stories with diverse relationships!

Sam and Michelle share a romantic moment in The Devil Within #1 Page 3. Written by Stephanie Phillips and drawn by Maan House. Published by Black Mask Studios. 10 October, 2018
A lesbian couple in a horror story. Yay!

There is an aspect about this story that’s been bothering me. The Devil Within is supposedly based on a true story. According to writer Stephanie Phillips, her friend from Cebu told her this tale, and now she’s turning it into a comic book. Surely I’m not the only one disturbed by a person of a different ethnicity telling someone else’s story? Shouldn’t a Filipina be writing this book and not a white woman, no matter how close she is to the source? No matter her intentions, it feels disingenuous to me and borders on appropriation.

I like the scary elements in the book, but they’re few and far between. We see reflections in a mirror, but it isn’t immediately clear what it is that’s happening in them. A grotesque face, a different person all together? What are we seeing here? It is only when Michelle tells Sam about what she saw in the mirror that we find out that the reflection was also following her and that it was her own reflection. The book relies too heavily on exposition, and that just doesn’t do enough to convey what the story needs.

Artist Maan House’s inks are vivid and beautiful, but not very fluid. If Michelle is Filipina, as one can assume from the text, it isn’t obvious from the art. This is a big negative, and I really hope it can be rectified in the upcoming issues. The faces of the characters are practically three-dimensional, but there is nary a sign of movement in the panels. Which is a shame because horror stories require motion to frighten readers.

A terrified Michelle looks into the mirror where she had just her reflection move. The Devil Within #1 Page 3. Written by Stephanie Phillips and drawn by Maan House. Published by Black Mask Studios. 10 October, 2018
What is supposed to be happening in these panels and where am I meant to look?

I also found myself taking some time to get used to the shadow work. House’s shadows are almost completely black, and I initially thought the darkness was a sign of the ghost appearing. It took till halfway through the book for me to realize the shadows meant nothing was happening; the shadows simply show that the lights were off. It did ruin the reading experience for me.

The comic has great little scary moments, but they’re not as well executed as they should be. By the end of the book, the reader is left feeling unfulfilled, which is not what any writer should aim for. It’s Halloween month, and we are all ready for ghost stories, but some stories just don’t do enough. The Devil Within is one of them.

Louis Skye

Louis Skye

A writer at heart with a fondness for well-told stories, Louis Skye is always looking for a way to escape the planet, whether through comic books, films, television, books, or video games. E always has an eye out for the subversive and champions diversity in media. Louis' podcast, Stereo Geeks, is available on all major platforms. Pronouns: E/ Er/ Eir