It is great news to learn about Scott Allie’s promotion to Editor-in-Chief at Dark Horse Comics. Scott is such a good guy. He is always accessible at comics events, is in tune with Dark Horse comics fans and the fans love him back. He is a very talented writer in his own right. He is simply a kind and down-to-earth person. I got a chance to have a chat with him over lunch when I did a tour of Dark Horse Comics headquarters in Milwaukie, Oregon. You can read that article at GeekWeek.
It is 1969, the Vietnam War rages, Americans at home battle over its legitimacy, and in the small town of Ipswich, Massachusetts, the devil has come calling. “THE DEVIL’s FOOTPRINTS” paints a picture of “the war at home” if it was waged between townspeople and supernatural forces. The focus of the town’s animosity is the Waite family which is down to the two sons of William Waite who, before he died, conjured up the depths of hell and left a lot to account for. This wasn’t the fault of the two boys, Brandon and Dexter, so the locals cut them some slack but not by much.
Scott Allie’s story provides a finely etched portrait of a dysfunctional family and town at odds with each other. Artists Paul Lee and Brian Horton, with moody colors by Dave Stewart, impressively depict Ipswich as typically drab and conservative: each proper citizen is full of spooky eagerness for gossip about each improper citizen. That sort of concentrated animosity toward Brandon, the town’s biggest misfit, should be enough to make him flee to as far away as his supernatural powers can take him. Instead, he won’t budge. Common sense seems to elude him but he knows better. While everyone else can’t handle the change around them, he is the most aware of it and, while an unlikely hero, he’s the town’s best chance in the role of exorcist.
The dust had only settled on what papa had wrought when Brandon and Dexter must deal with serious daddy issues. All signs point to the return of their dead father. The first clue appears when Brandon performs an incantation and produces a parchment with crudely scrawled letters spelling out, “Father.” Brandon looks more dismayed than shocked. This is pretty much the attitude of the town. They will tolerate Brandon and Dexter and put up with whatever satanic funk that still lingers just as long as it doesn’t drift right into their own backyard. You could say the same sort of denial would hold true for a war fought in jungles far away.
Denial is hard to break free from. Brandon’s sweetheart, Sarah, doesn’t want to get involved. Sarah’s mom, Diane, like many of the townspeople, would rather stay in a mellow drunken stupor. Brandon’s older brother, Dexter, who is supposed to be more responsible, is mostly void of passion. Brandon tries to convince him that a series of odd family illness is due to their father. The strangest case involves Dexter’s wife, Tabitha. What makes that most urgent is that she’s pregnant. While being treated for her mysterious flu at the local hospital, she is informed that she was never really pregnant. Brandon is outraged and does not believe it. Dexter abides by the news up until, while still in the hospital parking lot, he sees his father’s ghost fly away with what looks like a little baby. In true horror fashion, this is hinted at in a delightfully creepy image of a phantom cradling something just out of plain view.
Horror requires a tightly woven story closely following the fundamental rules of good storytelling: provide only what the reader needs to know. Sometimes the noose is made a bit tighter. For instance, at the start of the story, we see a meeting of occultists. The question is raised about the current stirring of trouble in Ipswich. The leader dismisses it as out of his jurisdiction. Who are they? Well, you don’t need to know. Or why does Brandon suddenly start to open up about his father to his girlfriend, Sarah? He hints at Sarah sharing some supernatural connection but what is it? Again, something for another time.
And what about the shopkeeper wizard who lives in another dimension in Salem and who has records on all the demons dating back to the very beginning? Well, you get to see him and he does what he needs to do before the gates are shut. He points Brandon to what he must do next and that is to meet with one particularly ghoulish demon with a stump where his head should be and who carries around two masks depending upon his mood.
The fate of Ipswich rests on Brandon’s shoulders. The two young men are doing all they can to avoid, “Salem, 1692, all over again,” namely getting killed by a hysterical mob. But summoning devils is never something that can be done discretely. It ultimately results in flames that can be seen from miles away. Change is good. Sometimes, it’s the most obvious and most sane thing to do. But, as Brandon has learned, whether it is dismantling a misguided war policy, or beating the devil, it still comes at a price.
“The Devil’s Footprints,” published by Dark Horse Books is available through Dark Horse and fine comics shops and bookstores. Here’s to seeing this book get rediscovered. The original publication of the book goes back to 2003. It includes additional short stories and text regarding the supernatural. It definitely deserves to be reissued. There have been a few other Devil’s Footprints tales since. Let’s hope to see more fully developed stories in the future. This is great stuff in comics and also has a great premise for television. You have the two brothers back in the sixties and then you have what came before and what lies ahead. Take this further and it could add up to something right up there with AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”