The Whispering Dark #1: The Ugly Side of War

The Whispering Dark #1 Cover A. Written by Christofer Emgård, drawn by Tomás Aira. Published by Dark Horse Comics. 24 October, 2018

The Whispering Dark #1

Christofer Emgård (Writer), Tomás Aira (Artist and Colours), Mauro Mantella (Letters)
Dark Horse
24 October, 2018

Chief Hannah Vance wasn’t sure about being sent into combat. Her plan was to become a pilot, but to do that, she first needed to be a warrant officer, so she went along with the programme. Months ago, Hannah joined a group of rangers, but she has yet to seen any action. She is beginning to wish it had stayed that way.

whispering dark

Captain Danvers and Hannah take a helicopter to rescue rangers from within enemy territory. The mission should have gone smoothly, but their helicopter is shot down. Hannah survives; her captain isn’t so lucky. Now it’s a fight for survival for Hannah and the rescued rangers.

The odds are stacked against them. Comms are down, and they have a long trek within enemy territory with next to no rations. Even the difficult terrain is against them. The team try to keep themselves going by using “go-pills,” a kind of energy booster that Hannah has previously eschewed. Anything to keep her mind off the deaths piling up around her.

However, when it comes down to it, the greatest threat facing Hannah isn’t what’s around her, but what’s inside her. Are the go-pills doing something to her mind, or is there really something more unnatural in the surroundings?

I wanted to review this book because we do not get enough stories about women in the armed forces. Even now, in the 21st century, war stories tend to be overwhelmingly male-centric, despite the number of women, around the world, who join the military.

As a protagonist, Hannah Vance has much more depth than I expected. She is a God-fearing woman, having grown up in a religious household, but she isn’t afraid of doing what needs to be done. Unfortunately, the consequences of her actions, and her orders, weigh heavily on her mind. She needs to do terrible things in order to survive and keep those in her charge safe. War is an ugly thing, she knew that going in, but the harsh reality of it still manages to catch her by surprise. She constantly questions whether she is doing the right thing, and for the right reason.

This book is, thankfully, quite diverse. The soldiers include two women, one white, one African-American, a white man, an African-American man and a Latino. I point this out because racial diversity is another rarity in war stories. At the most, we might get one soldier of colour. This is also true of comic books and graphic novels, in general, a medium that still somehow struggles to give readers the diversity that exists within real-world populations.

I don’t want to give writer Christofer Emgård all the kudos yet, though. The characters of colour can be easily categorised into boxes thus far: the kind one, the scary one, the coward. Hannah, the white woman protagonist, on the other hand, gets to have several personality traits. I’m going to wait for the next issue before I make any more judgements.

Tomás Aira’s art is excellent, and his colours are phenomenal. His rural opening sets up a brilliant contrast between the bright, hopeful life Hannah has left behind, and the world of shadows and uncertainties that she finds herself in now. Shadows in art are particularly tricky to render, and many artists are guilty of overdoing the shading to the point where the effect is lost. Aira doesn’t fall into this trap, managing to depict believable nighttime scenes.

This four-issue limited series did promise a supernatural element, but readers going into this book looking for ghosts and ghouls will be left disappointed. The first issue concludes with only the implication of something unnatural, which is a shame, because there is such a limited time to develop a meaningful unearthly setting. The supernatural is difficult enough to explore, even when a writer is delving into existing lore, but to develop something new, as this book implies, will take time and energy. If badly done, it could derail the entire experience of reading this series.

I also can’t help but wonder if this series needs anything that is out of the realms of reality. Why not explore the human psyche when it is put through the wringer by the pressures of war?

There is a disturbing moment part-way through the book when one of the officers completely breaks down after he witnesses an explosion. The other characters do what they have to in the situation: take cover, protect their supplies, make sure they are out of harm’s way. But, for this one officer, it is just one too many things that has happened and he can no longer take it. I love horror stories as much as the next person, but surely the horrors of war are more than enough to scare a person silly? Do we need the addition of monsters to drive home the point?

The Whispering Dark is an enticing read and manages to tell a riveting story about war without relying too heavily on gore. The characters are interesting, though the protagonist is the only one who gets much development. The others, though, have the potential to be fascinating, if given the chance. I’m eager to see where this story heads in upcoming issues. I still have reservations, but I am still quietly optimistic about the strength of this tale.

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