Pop Comic Review – Beast No More: Metamorphosis

‘The world of Blanch, a young country girl, is turned upside down when her beloved father returns from the Vietnam War. Father is behaving strangely, but it isn’t long before Blanch unravels his secrets and is left to make a choice that will send her down a horrific path.’

Written by: Jennifer Van Gessel

Art By: Joan Marin, Leticia Morgado (colours)

Publisher: Amigo Comics

Released: 17 January 2018

Amigo Comics (cover by Guillermo Mogorron)

Australian written horror is always notable, with the almost love-hate relationship between the cities and the outback, dotted with small towns involving long lonely journeys to get to and from, and the ease of getting lost with risk of deathly consequences, meaning they often hit on notes of isolation, lack of control, and being an outsider faced with insular groups (and sometimes giant killer animals). Growing urban areas, along with better transport and rescue services these days have lessened these troubles a bit (not entirely), and they’re certainly not themes exclusive to our country, but it’s still baked into the Australian psyche to an extent. So a short story set in the Australian bush decades ago, centring on the young member of an isolated, insular family, is probably going to take full advantage of those points.

Van Gessel has been involved with grindhouse-style and horror comics before, with projects like the violent sexual assault revenge mini-series Unleash, so I was surprised that Beast No More: Metamorphosis has a much more psychological touch and eschews violence for the most part in favour of a weighty theme of the central character being sucked down and in by the demands of loyalty to an increasingly toxic and prison-like family (heads up for infanticide, abuse, and incest). While the characters were constructed well, I think the story overall could have been improved by being a little longer with more time to invest in them early on, and to help really build that creeping, gets under your skin feeling. However, it’s certainly not a deal breaker for the flow of the story – and does risk dragging the plot out too much before getting to the meat of it, if not handled right. The comic ends with a panel of a ‘normal’ family celebrating the birth of their child, which I assumed was for contrast to the ending for our central family (a complicated and unhappy one, suitable for the genre), though it seemed odd; luckily, that contrasting shot was explained soon enough for me, though not in the comic.

I was surprised to find out after reading it that this is a prequel comic for the upcoming Australian/USA movie Beast No More, directed by Aaron Warwick and produced by Van Gessel – writer of the movie as well as this comic. While information on the movie obviously avoids revealing too much plot detail or spoilers, a prequel story like this tells you a lot that you can make assumptions from. I was very interested to learn that our main character Blanch is the villain of the movie, which made her arc in the comic more interesting. As you can guess though, knowledge of it being a prequel wasn’t required for reading the comic, and didn’t make it incomprehensible at all. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the movie, and it’ll be interesting to see whether having read this prequel comic makes a difference to the viewing. Probably not, but it’s still interesting to have further insight into interesting characters, and from what I’ve read so far about the movie and in the comic, Van Gessel has built some good ones.

Amigo Comics

This is rapidly becoming a very international project; Spanish artists Marin and Morgado have done a great job on this too. Psychological horror relies on its visuals just as much as the writing to get the audiences skin crawling. At times when it’s trying to make you feel scared without having something immediately scary to show you, while I’ve seen better, Beast No More: Metamorphosis is no slacker. Claustrophobic framing is used when needed and rich colours are employed to lend a grotesque nature to Father’s wartime physical injuries (which reflect his mental ones), whereas the sister’s birth defects are treated more sympathetically and kindly. I loved the recurring image of the older girls kneading bread in the kitchen at the window, a sign of their self-sufficiency despite their isolation, and I felt a reference to the expected ‘women’s work’ of keeping the home together in a practical and emotional sense, tying in to the psychologically abusive demands made on them.

Overall, an interesting bit of 70’s set horror; it doesn’t break any new ground or provide anything amazingly original, but has solid bones in the things that worry us, which is what any horror needs. It stands on its own two legs as a horror one-shot, and should be pretty interesting as a tie-in to the upcoming Beast No More movie. It has certainly done it’s job in creating interest in the movie for me as well, though unusually the comic only mentions the movie once. A brief dedication at the start, tucked onto the title page with all the other credit and legal information, to actor Joe Brown. Browns likeness was used for the character of Father with his agreement, since he was being considered for the part, but he unfortunately passed away before production began. I would have really expected a lot more space given to promoting the movie considering the comic is a tie-in, but I guess it was released in the expectation that it would entertain on its own. Which it has.

Thanks to Comixology.com for providing this issue of ‘Beast No More: Metamorphosis’ for review.

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