Take The Sinister Path
♦Tripwire’s contributing writer TIM HAYES takes a look at Dan Brereton’s latest adventure with his own creations, The Nocturnals, in The Sinister Path…
Nocturnals: The Sinister Path
Writer/ Artist: Dan Brereton
The Nocturnals, Dan Brereton’s sublime mixture of Gene Colan, HP Lovecraft and Sergio Leone, ride again in The Sinister Path, almost a decade after the crew last appeared in narrative stories and more than two since they first arrived via Malibu Comics’ Bravura imprint. Supported now by an enthusiastically over-subscribed Kickstarter campaign – a small part of which came from me – the new story pulls a few new individuals into the already large cast, and barely contains a sprawling narrative’s loose ends and mild contradictions. But the strongest personality in any Brereton work is the artist himself, and The Sinister Path is full of his vivid paintwork and a benevolent humanity.
The setting is still Pacific City and the time is still invariably night, but the dimension-hopping gun-toting single-parent Doc Horror has withdrawn from his mob-enforcement duties for the sympathetic crime boss Don Lupo Zampa. Instead Horror spends his time raising Eve, his hugely precocious, utterly charming and equally alien daughter. Drawn into a local mystery, Horror and his Nocturnal allies – Polychrome the wraith, Starfish the amphibian, Gunwitch the hulking zombie cowboy, plus Eve herself who just never stays put – meet an angry brother and sister from a more dysfunctional family unit, with reasons to seek revenge against Zampa for their pain.
One easy pleasure of the book is seeing how Brereton’s style has changed since he first applied a brush to the Nocturnals. His flamboyant painted cartooning was always one answer to the Alex Ross school of photo-realism, but in 1995 Horror and the rest were drawn in calmer, more controlled panels and darker sombre colours. Today the style is looser and brighter, less figurative, more of the background brush strokes showing, and blazingly colourful. The flavour of pin-up glamour that comes very easily to Brereton’s females gets more emphasis too, used as characterisation. New character Nyx is drawn to resemble Odile from Swan Lake, while Polychrome – who spent the first series covered up in a heavy coat and bandana – now flaunts skin-bearing boho chic with heavy accessories, her changed outlook laid out in visual terms like a good comic should.
Nocturnals comics are bright and breezy and bold, but their narrative hooks are as solid as they come: family, loss, loneliness, mercy. In The Sinister Path this leads to at least one character getting a slice of painful backstory that he probably doesn’t need, but not for nothing does Eve – more grown up than in previous stories but still an adolescent – reunite a parent and child just as she was once reunited with her own father, through a compassionate act where one wasn’t strictly needed. There’s a strong literary dimension too, although the usual reference point of HP Lovecraft and his unknowable void gives way this time to Edgar Allan Poe and human-made unhappiness. Near the end, a Poe reader is supplied with authors that might be more to his liking: Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Chester Himes, a better fit for a world where a charismatic gangster racoon also owns most of the fast food outlets, and gets upset when pool hall punks make remarks about the shapely amphibian sea queen that he’s keen on. The comics world is in better shape when the Nocturnals are out and about in it. Bring on the night.