Highly-acclaimed horror series Something is Killing the Children (SIKTC) has been making news lately: a few months ago, Netflix announced that Mike Flanagan, revered horror creator of limited series such as The Haunting of Hill House and Midnight Mass, would be adapting the Boom! Studios series.
James Tynion IV, SIKTC’s creator, has also been in the spotlight after winning an Eisner Award for best writer and turning down an exclusive deal for DC Comics so he could continue working on projects for smaller publishers. One of his plans is to expand the world of SIKTC, or, as his team calls it, the “Slaughterverse.” The first of these expansion efforts is House of Slaughter, a spin-off series that focuses on monster-hunter Aaron Slaughter, Erica’s handler during the main storyline in SIKTC. Tynion is developing this new series with co-writer Tate Bombral, while Chris Shehan covers art, Miquel Muerto from SIKTC provides coloring, and Andworld Design letters the book.
House of Slaughter #1
Andworld Design (letterer), Tate Brombal (story and script), Miquel Muerto (colorist), James Tynion IV (story), Chris Shehan (art)
October 27, 2021
House of Slaughter #1 employs a split narrative, with the first part set during Aaron’s adulthood as he goes about a personally-difficult hunt right before the events of SIKTC. The issue then cuts back 15 years to his early training to become a hunter with the Order of Saint George as a young teen. Unlike Aaron’s more bleak, by-the-book outlook as an adult, this Aaron is a bright-eyed, energetic, and expressive boy. He faces bullying from the White Masks, a rivaling group in the house, and tries to prove himself capable to his mentor Jessica.
The issue does very well with this flashback narrative, showing us Aaron’s demeanor as an adult—a familiar one to any Something is Killing the Children readers—before the issue takes us back to the beginning to show the early experiences that shape him into the man he’ll become. A central question is how Aaron will not only survive, but learn to thrive, which proves to be a challenging task in such a competitive and violent environment. The book also introduces a new character, a white mask named Jace, who mysteriously transfers between one house in New Orleans and into the House of Slaughter, a very uncommon move for the Order of St. George. Despite being different kinds of “masks,” Jace rooms with Aaron, and together they strike an unlikely alliance that will change Aaron’s life forever.
The cover art of the first issue features an adult Aaron, golden-eyed and black-masked, standing in front of a huge, equally-golden moon that gives him a kind of crooked halo. The cover sets the tone for the book, exploring how Aaron will earn the teeth on his mask and rise through the ranks as an important member of the house. The cover also sets the tone for the art, some of which is very compelling. Unlike the art of SIKTC that depicts characters in a looser, more scrawl-like way, House of Slaughter renders its characters with cleaner, more solid lines. The art also does well with tone, especially in the present-day narrative. In one particular panel of a house’s bloodied threshold, the red contrasts against a golden glow to illustrate the eerie dread of visibility and the weight of violence for Aaron. It’s a great moment that punctuates the comic and reminds us that even though the issue is focused more on childhood rivalry, this is still a horror comic. Monsters are still out there, and in the Slaughterverse, they are brutal.
Perhaps most importantly for this issue from a cultural standpoint is its centering of Aaron as a gay character of color, with an implied promise that his queer experience will be further explored in subsequent issues. Representations of queer BIPOC characters matter in comics, and it’s good to see the creators choose to explore this in a spin-off of a comic as popular as Something Is Killing the Children. Tynion himself is a queer creator, and queer narratives are not new to his oeuvre, so it’ll be exciting to see how he’ll explore this aspect in his newest series.
For those awaiting the return of SIKTC, House of Slaughter has the potential to be a suitable substitute or, in its own right, a satisfying series. Aaron’s story is worth being told in more depth. If you haven’t read SIKTC yet but want to get a taste of the universe, House of Slaughter seems like the kind of book you can read on its own without prior knowledge of the main title as long as you know you’ll miss out on some nuance. The first 15 issues of SIKTC are collected into trade paperbacks right now, so you can get a sense of that excellent series before dipping into the past with House of Slaughter.