4 stars Local comic book writer/artist Stuart Sayger has created quite a stir in the industry with the self-publication of the first issue of Shiver in the Dark. For some months now, Sayger has maintained a relentless convention schedule, pushing the book into as many hands as possible and earning kudos from the likes of industry stalwarts David Mack and Ashley Wood. His work is paying off; starting in June, he'll be taking on inking duties for legendary artist Bob Layton on the Future Comics book Deathmask.
The story of Shiver in the Dark feels very much like the first act of an episode of The Twilight Zone, wherein a perfectly ordinary person takes a wrong turn and matters quickly plummet straight to hell. Grace, a bratty and obnoxious college student, finds herself strangely drawn to a dusty old tome in a bizarre bookshop, leading into a nightmare of sheer screaming terror. Grace herself is a compelling character: amoral and arrogant as she swaggers through the world, until she's faced with new definitions of amorality.
The real star of the book is Sayger's art, beautiful to behold: atmospheric, sleek and drenched in lush. Even though it's black and white, the sumptuous details give it all the tonal and evocative range of color. His creative use of filter effects and multiple art techniques add to the surrealist atmosphere. Sayger's work reminds me of the influential 1980s art by the likes of John Totleben and Rick Veitch, who redefined horror comics in their respective runs on Swamp Thing.
Sayger's writing doesn't quite reach the standards of the art; the dialogue doesn't always ring true and the exposition is awkward. Once we're beyond the surface of Evil Popular Grace and start digging around in her interior conflicts, the story begins to take off. If anything, it's overwritten. At times, Sayger would do well to do away with the narration entirely, as the images tell the story perfectly.
Nonetheless, Shiver in the Dark is an important entry in Indianapolis' independent comics oeuvre, and Sayger's new job with Future Comics assures his name will be familiar on both the local and national levels for some time to come.
Shiver in the Dark is available at Comic Carnival shops and through Sayger's site at www.stuartsayger.com. -Paul F. P. Pogue
Midseason update: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
If you stopped watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer after last year's very grim season, I'm here to say, "Olly Olly Oxen Free," "All Clear" and "It's safe to go back in the water."
Yes, the show is light again. Well, as light as you can be when dealing with forces from the Hellmouth that want to eradicate every atom of life as we know it. A note for the benefit of those who have never watched the show:
On second thought, screw 'em. Several TV critics who included Buffy the Vampire Slayer in their Best of 2002 lists made remarks to the effect that this season marks a welcome return to form following a subpar season. Wrong! Last season was perhaps the most daring in the history of the series, highlighted by the remarkable musical episode "Once More, With Feeling."
Creator Joss Whedon and his talented cohorts used last year to explore all things dark, as Buffy's well-intentioned friends used magic to bring the slain slayer back to life. Little did they know they were wrenching Buffy back from a peaceful place she deemed heaven. Buffy, alienated from the living world, took solace with Spike, the James Dean of vampires, who was quite used to not being alive. Their encounters soon turned sexual - S&M sexual - with scenes so graphic that the network electronically blurred certain bits, and foreplay so violent that it was hard to watch.
After providing viewers with TV's first in-depth examination of an S&M relationship, the show has returned to the brighter, more flippant style of the early seasons. Buffy's sister Dawn is attending Sunnydale High School, freshly rebuilt (right on the Hellmouth, though. D"oh!), the mysterious new principal has hired Buffy to counsel students on campus, Spike has a fresh new soul and Willow may be about to find a new girlfriend. Aside from the primal force wiping out potential slayers and plotting a takeover of Earth, it's a veritable beach party! Or not.
Either way, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is in peak operating condition. Do yourself a favor and tune in. Buffy the Vampire Slayer airs 8 p.m. Tuesdays on UPN. -Ed Johnson-Ott
Game review: HeroClix 5 stars Wiz Kids Games first made its presence known in the minds of gaming fans in 2000 with the wildly popular Mage Knight series. Eschewing the clunky rules and pewter pieces of former miniatures games, company founders Jordan and Dawne Weisman developed the patent-pending "combat dial" base. Each tiny figure stands atop a "clickable" dial that contains all of the statistics needed for that character to be used in a gaming situation, along with dice and a grid-like map.
Adding to the fun, characters are randomly available in starter packs and booster packs; like collectible cards, you don't know who you have until you open them up. A few months ago, Wiz Kids applied the successful strategy of Mage Knight to the most ruthlessly compulsive gang of collectors on Earth: comic book fans. Thus was a mega-hit born.
HeroClix pits the heroes and villains of the comics against each other in a fun, colorful game that has distinct all-ages appeal in both play and collectibility. Separate lines exist for the two giants of comics: Marvel and DC, with "IndyClix" on the way for the smaller companies. To say that fans love HeroClix would be a ludicrous understatement. One million boxes of the DC series alone have been sold since September. Fueled by the prospect of finding elusive "unique" characters (like the villainous Darkseid or the Golden Age Flash) and acquiring all the versions of each hero (which come in three point levels: rookie, veteran and experienced), players furiously buy, sell and trade as they pursue their perfect lineup.
HeroClix is quite a rarity: a great family game. From the looks of early sales, this one will be around for a while. HeroClix are readily found in local comic and game shops. A starter pack runs about $15 and includes eight figures; a booster pack runs about $7 and contains four; $30 Premiere Sets, which contain 10 predetermined figures and other accessories, are also available. -Troy Brownfield