REVIEW: Grimm Tales of Terror Quarterly: 2021 Halloween Special

An image of a woman with long brown hair standing against a green background. There is an amusement park behind her. She stands with her hands extended to the viewer.

This Halloween, Keres, the Goddess of Death, returns for a bloody romp through Nightmareland, capturing souls at the haunted amusement park. Grimm Tales of Terror Quarterly: 2021 Halloween Special is an anthology that features four flawed horror tales, bookended by a spooky main story that makes the ride whole worth it.

Grimm Tales of Terror Quarterly: 2021 Halloween Special

Vinicius Andrade (colors), Maxflan Araujo (colors), Sergio Ariño (artist), Hakan Aydin (artist), Al Barrionuevo (cover), Edwin Estrada (colors), Guillermo Fajardo (artist), Grostieta (colors), Sean Konot (letters), Juan Francisco Mota (artist), Ivan Nunes (cover artist), Moy R. (artist), Jay Sandlin (writer), Clau Violette (colors)
Zenescope
October 20, 2021

An image of a woman with long brown hair standing against a green background. There is an amusement park behind her. She stands with her hands extended to the viewer.

The story follows Nathan Best, an arrogant but unremarkable actor whose minor celebrity is financed by his wealthy father. On Halloween, Nathan is invited to the Dreamland amusement park by a mysterious man named Kingston, where he learns of the powerful Club 66 hidden somewhere in the park. Club 66 is an interdimensional social order that feeds on souls to grant its members incredible power and prestige.

Nathan jumps at the chance to join, but there’s a catch: on Halloween, Dreamland turns into Nightmareland, a spooky version of the park where doomed souls are harvested to fuel the club’s machinations. Kingston tasks Nathan with finding the most twisted and depraved people by dawn for the sacrifice. Nathan is more than willing to feed the machine and takes a nametag so he can pose as an employee of the park.

Despite the complicated setup of evil theme parks and Lovecraftian secret societies, the unfolding events make for a compelling read overall. Dreamland is a cheeky stand-in for Disney theme parks and their many iconic rides, such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Jungle Cruise. Nathan appears in every story, guiding his chosen targets to the attractions he’s chosen for them.

The first of the four stories is “Seven Undead Seas,” with art by Sergio Ariño and Maxflan Araujo. It follows a conservative church group that arrives at the park to protest Halloween and ends up on a zombie ride instead, resulting in an attack by reanimated pirates. Arino’s figures are highly detailed with a soft, rounded quality to their portions, complemented by Araujo’s painterly coloring style and muted palette choices. Their combined efforts make for a surprisingly pleasant zombie story, gory elements and all.

The next entry, “Dark Creature Carousel” by artist Juan Francisco Mota and Araujo back on colors, features a cheating husband and his girlfriend becoming trapped on a hellish carousel. Mota’s thick linework creates weighted figures that contrast with Araujo’s disarmingly colorful palette. Together they provide a striking transformation sequence as the carousel animals turn nightmarish, such as an alligator with too many mouths and a distorted deer with antlers sprouting from every orifice. While these creatures only appear in a handful of panels, they are my favorite part of this entry.

Next, “Safari!” from artist Moy R. and colorist Clau Violette follows a pair of frat boys who encounter real monsters in the park’s Jungle Cruise-esque attraction. R.’s angular, highly stylized linework delivers exaggerated characters for a greater comedic effect, which is balanced by Violette’s use of pastel purples, blues, and pinks. The closing story, “Hellcoaster” from artist Hakan Aydin and colorist Edwin Estrada, is also the goriest of the four. It features a group of drug dealers posing as a metal band who get trapped on a demon-infested rollercoaster. The violence is realized in grim detail by Aydin’s gritty linework and Estrada’s heavy use of hellish reds, flat blacks, and dramatically layered textures.

Overall, writer Jay Sandlin provides an entertaining script full of gory kills and terrible people who get their comeuppance. None of the characters are particularly well-developed, but the script functions as a mean-spirited morality tale that’s appropriate for a Halloween anthology like this. However, the ways in which some of the characters are portrayed can be stereotypical, prejudiced, and contradictory to the comic’s apparent intentions.

The conservative protestors in the first story are led by a married pair of loud, fat, and abusive Southerners, dressed in shorts and tight or revealing shirts that show off their thick bodies. Rural and fat is a common yet disappointing shorthand for conservatism, which feels out of place when the rest of the group consists of timid, clean-cut young men in suits. The young men seem to gesture toward typical depictions of Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons, making this a confusing muddle of different faiths that doesn’t clearly explain why all these people are condemnable.

In the second story, the cheating husband is seen berating his girlfriend, but he’s also pointedly designated as a hot-headed Latino stereotype. Shoehorned Spanish phrases and calling characters “amigo” add a callous and unnecessary racialized element to an otherwise generically unfaithful partner and a bad boyfriend. The frat boys in the third entry sexually harass two girls and later threaten to assault (perhaps even murder) them, but are portrayed as overtly silly college jocks. With their over-the-top characterizations, the toxicity Sandlin draws attention to reads as goofy and non-threatening. Abusive men aren’t beyond well-deserved mockery, but when their abusive behavior is undercut, the point is lost amid jock jokes.

Finally, the bookending story brings the comic to a bombastic close as Nathan returns to claim his reward. Keles makes her appearance and Nathan discovers just what Kingston’s deal entails. Artist Guillermo Fajardo and colorists Grostieta and Vinicius Andrade absolutely nail these sequences, providing the visual narrative for Nathan’s overarching plot and bringing it full circle to a satisfying conclusion.

Fajardo’s linework is highly kinetic with expressive characters and clean, dynamic page compositions. The reality-warping nature of Club 66 is expressed in psychedelic mirrored hallways and explosions of tentacles and glass. Broken reflections and monstrous appendages are used to condense time and space in horrific tableaux, breaking down the horrors Nathan tumble through into frenetic and nightmarish sequences. Grostieta and Andrade deliver wonderfully textured, moody colors on their respective pages, using deep reds, blues, and greens to evoke a haunted house atmosphere. All of this culminates in a chilling finale with what I found to be the most legitimately haunting imagery in the entire comic.

In the end, Grimm Tales of Terror Quarterly: 2021 Halloween Special is a mixed bag. Nathan’s storyline carries the book with its strong visual narrative and frightening conclusion. However, the tongue-in-cheek tone of the other stories is ultimately soured by their worst elements, detracting from an otherwise enjoyably mean-spirited anthology. If handled with a little more consideration, this Halloween special could have been truly great. That said, memorable monsters and stunning artwork make this comic one worth picking up.

Magen Cubed

Magen Cubed

Magen Cubed is a novelist, occasional critic, and general internet menace. Frequently seen hollering about monsters on Twitter.

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