Apparently I’m in the mood for eerie black-and-white comics, since this is the second post in a row that features something grim and shadowy. I personally blame Keir, who poked his head in my office door this week and, intently focused on Mystery Month, asked, “Is is noir?” Well, not really, unless you consider it on purely aesthetic terms, in which case it’s totally noir. Black-and-white images? Looming shadows? Cantilevered angles? Check, check, and check. But this isn’t a mystery, no matter how hard I try to spin it.
Nope, there’s not really any murder here (unless you count the full-scale dismemberment of humans by vicious monsters as murder). This is good, old fashioned horror (plus a smattering of hilarious jokes to lighten the mood). The best horror movies open with an eerie, scene-setting prologue that hints at the menace looming on the horizon, and Abby Howard’s The Last Halloween falls right in line with the best of them. First we see a quiet street of brownstones, then one explodes in a ball of fire. Within, a doglike creature with shambling teeth observes a man burned to a crisp, while on the street, a dark-eyed woman waits next to her car, which contains a disgruntled, bound-and-hooded man. What have they wrought?
Luckily, saucer-eyed reluctant hero Mona is here to reveal everything. All she wants to do on Halloween is go trick-or-treating, but her parent (her mustachioed father wears dresses and heels, and Mona uses they for their pronoun) is going to a party instead. Dejected, Mona settles in to watch horror movies and eat candy. But her TV shows cut to colored bars after some horrifying visuals, and a humungous creature appears from under her coffee table and skids across the floor after her. She bolts into the night and finds herself in a graveyard (naturally), where she runs into four . . . kids? . . . her age, who are wearing some kick-ass Halloween costumes. Can they help?
Ghoul Shirley, Banjo the wereopossum (he faints frequently), Robert the creepily stoic living doll, and Ringley the annoyingly enthusiastic vampire lead Mona to Dr. Fugue, an invisible doctor who explains a few things about their situation. Firstly, every human has a shadow monster who lurks in the darkness and whose life span is directly tied to the human’s. If a monster’s human dies, it dies too. That is, unless the monster kills the human, in which case the monster gains immortality. What’s stopping the monsters from killing their humans all the time? Remember that charred-to-a-crisp guy from the prologue? He’s the Phagocyte, a creature who keeps humans mostly safe from monsters, and now that he’s out of commission and in a coma, monsters are running amok everywhere. Mona’s new friends are the undead, neither human nor monster, and they exist in a kind of limbo between the human world and the shadow realm. Phew! That’s a lot to take in, especially for Mona, who still doesn’t quite grasp what’s happening.
Mona, whose monster is still in hot pursuit, suddenly is thrust into the role of protector of humans. Refreshingly, Mona emphatically does not take this in stride. Up to this point, she’s rather notably in denial about the whole “monsters are real” thing, and instead of stepping up to the task of defending herself against repulsive creatures, Mona would much rather cower in terror. Her shrieks fill panel after panel, and even after Dr. Fugue gives her an enchanted weapon, tells her to fulfill her destiny, and sends her on her way, she Is. Not. On. Board.
There are a lot of laughs in Howard’s webcomic, her masterful comedic timing and cartoonish figures—particularly Mona with her exaggerated eyeballs and flappy, too-long sleeves, and Ringley, who has the energy and devotion of a yappy, melodramatic puppy—do plenty to keep the mood relatively light. But her handle on horrific monsters is just as deft, and the sharp transition from thickly outlined, simply drawn figures making jokes about lame dads to grotesque, intricately detailed creatures mangling people and leaving organs and viscera in their wakes amplifies the scares to delicious heights.
Fans of classic monster movies, especially of the John Carpenter variety, will get a kick of Mona and her appropriately scream-filled quest to save humans everywhere. Howard updates once a week, and she just started an additional story line featuring some wise words about grief from Mona’s and Ringley’s widower fathers, so get ready for some teary-eyed emotions in addition to the yuks and yucks.