The Whispering Dark #4
Tomás Aira (artist and colours), Christofer Emgård (writer), Mauro Mantella (letters)
Dark Horse Comics
13 February, 2019
Chief Hannah Vance is about to face her reckoning. Days of trudging through hostile weather in enemy territory with her rescued rangers have turned her into a hardened soldier. With food supplies low, the group has been dangerously over-using the go-go pills to keep them on their feet.
But the pills can’t explain the monolith they have encountered. Hannah and her fellow rangers, Watts and Norton, are hiding within a church altar under a decimated village but have found themselves in a massive cavern. Though there is no life here, Hannah feels a presence, one that speaks to her, knows her darkest secrets, and goads the soldiers to act out their deepest fears. What happens in that cavern is anyone’s guess—all the outside world knows is that three soldiers went in, but only one came back out.
The conclusion to The Whispering Dark is almost exactly what I expected it to be. In some ways, that is a relief, but I can’t help feeling a little bit disappointed. There is nothing here that couldn’t have been predicted, which makes me feel like writer Christofer Emgård took the safe option in his storytelling. Is it a bad ending? No, but it could have been so much better.
We finally meet the creature that Hannah has been ‘seeing’ throughout the first three issues of The Whispering Dark. What is this being? Is it Satan? Is it a figment of Hannah’s drug-addled brain? Why is it interested in Hannah? Is it because she is the leader of this rag-tag team of rangers? Or perhaps she is being punished for giving up her faith in God in order to survive. None of this information is available to the reader, and though it is fun to surmise, there is far too much that The Whispering Dark leaves to the readers’ imagination for it to be an enjoyable experience.
Tomás Aira’s art has been a highlight throughout the series and in this issue, he shows his genius. Visually, The Whispering Dark #4 ties the series together, featuring a host of throwbacks that readers will immediately pick up on. Everything that has happened in The Whispering Dark is related and relevant, and it all makes sense in weird and wonderful ways because of Aira’s stunning art. Once again, it is evident what a command Aira has over ink and colours. There are so many realistic shadows in the cavern scenes, and in the hands of a lesser skilled artist, it could have been a disaster. But Aira does an excellent job of evoking the eerie atmosphere called for in this issue.
I must also commend Aira on the art for the monster, which looks horrifying but believable—the kind of monster one would imagine if they were biblically inclined. It’s all ragged sharp teeth, glowing red eyes, skeletal, huge, with bat-like wings. It would have been easy to go over-the-top with the depiction of the monster but Aira pares it back, and it works.
My biggest grouse with The Whispering Dark has been the lack of depth for the characters of colour. Hannah may be the protagonist, but over four issues, readers have been given absolutely no insight into her fellow rangers. As rare as it is for a war comic book to have a female protagonist, it is just as rare to have characters of colour in such comics. Simply representing diverse characters isn’t enough, definitely not in 2019, and I had hoped that this final issue would do some justice to Norton and Watts.
Alas, that is not to be. As I feared, the characters of colour are props—expendable props—to the progression of Hannah’s story. In The Whispering Dark #4, Norton and Watts are goaded into deadly action, while Hannah observes. The juxtaposition of two people of colour fighting to the death is dangerously close to the bigoted view extremists have of people of colour being guided by their base emotions, in contrast to the white person who is above such debasement. Whether or not writer Emgård meant to create that impression, that is the lasting feeling one gets while reading The Whispering Dark—that this is not a book for people of colour.
Sadly, despite the strengths of The Whispering Dark—its excellent art and colour-work, the engaging story, and its powerful message about the demons within us—one cannot help but feel underwhelmed, and alienated, by the story. The Whispering Dark would have benefited from more issues, and from a sensitivity check. The series isn’t without its highlights, but it always feels like the story is headed towards a destination it never quite reaches.