"Pandemonium" Graphic Novel Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Humanoids
Written by Christopher Bec
Illustrated by Stefano Raffaele
2012, 162 Pages
Graphic Novel released on April 4th, 2012
Thanks to the wonders of modern medicine, we take for granted the fact that we don't fall prey to certain diseases like small pox, polio, or tuberculosis anymore. Years ago these were real threats that would easily shorten your life span. Pandemonium takes a look at not only the horror of tuberculosis (TB), but a particular sanatorium in Louisville where they specialized in the sickness. It's here that Doris, a survivor of TB, finds herself when her daughter Cora starts showing symptoms. Things are not what they seem at this hospital though, and she quickly comes to fear for not only her life, but for her daughter as well.
Thinking that something like TB would be the center of a horror story doesn't sound that scary, but author Christoper Bec plays up just the right angles. The fact that Cora is the one suffering instead of Doris pulls on the heartstrings of any parent out there. This child is sick and there's little to nothing that her mother can do to help her. Instead she must trust the girl in the hands of the sanatorium staff and they are clearly very strange.
The setting of the sanatorium is a creepy place to begin with. Picture a massive building, like you'd find at a university campus, only it's far from full. There are select rooms that contain patients, but aside from that there are not many other people. The staff is minimal and the hallways are big and empty. The idea of getting lost or being alone in this place is enough to put me on edge.
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With few exceptions, all of the staff are total whackjobs. Doris trusts them because that's what you do in the 1950s. Who can you trust if you can't trust your doctors? They would never do something to purposefully harm her daughter, would they? At first, there's nothing more than uneasiness, but as Pandemonium continues it becomes very clear that this staff is up to something.
There's a slight supernatural angle to Pandemonium, but it's almost unnecessary. The book is creepy on its own, but that creep factor is escalated with the idea that there's a tunnel beneath the sanatorium haunted by the ghosts of the hundreds of people that have died there over the years. Only a select few can see it or hear the phantom train that comes for them in the middle of the night.
Artist Stefano Raffaele does a great job capturing the time period. You can tell right off the bat that this takes place during the 1950s. Everything from the nurse's uniforms to the antiquated furniture is spot on. Raffaele has an ability to lure you into a false sense of security with his art. Everything looks normal at first and then, once you've let your guard down, he brings in the spooky with a single panel. It can be a big one that just shows how alone these people are out in the country or it can be the image of a crate filled with bodies being brought up to a waiting truck. It's not a startling moment, but it's one that you're just not prepared for.
Pandemonium can be a bit unsettling, but at the end of the day it makes me thankful that I live in a day and age where I'm vaccinated against certain diseases. I would have liked a bit more info in the story as to what happened to the sanatorium. As it stands, Bec gives a brief history as a postscript to the book, but it would have been nice to have a few extra pages of artwork from Raffaele to bring us up to speed, especially since the book starts out in present day and is then told in flashback. This is a minor annoyance though, and shouldn't prevent anyone from checking this out.