Writer: Jody Houser
Pencils: Stefano Martino
Inking: Keith Champagne
Colourist: Lauren Affe
Letterer: Nate Piekos
Cover: Tomm Coker
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
From writer Jody Houser (Doctor Who, Faith, Mother Panic) comes a previously untold story from the Netflix smash-hit, Stranger Things. Will Byers, fresh from a game of Dungeons & Dragons with his friends, finds himself menaced by a hideous monster, the Demogorgon. Dragged into the creature’s domain, the shadowy and decay-filled ‘Upside Down’, Will struggles to survive. Using his fantasy knowledge to try and make desperate sense of his surroundings, Will does what he can to contact someone to help…
In case it needed to be said, it is unwise to read this issue without watching the series on Netflix! Stranger Things #1 overlaps with events from the first episode, with Will running for his life from the Demogorgon. He is dragged into its home dimension, the Upside Down, and it is at this point where the comic takes over. Hitting the monster with a lucky shot from his rifle, he is it at first unwilling to accept the change in reality, and passes out. Upon waking, he starts to realise that this place is not the town he left, and whilst exploring the forest for any way out, he encounters the ghostly psychic form of Eleven. Hearing faint whisperings of his name through the trees, Will decides to find another means of communication, and recovers his walkie-talkie. For the briefest of moments, he is connected to his mother (via telephone, as we saw on screen) but his celebration is short-lived, as the Demogorgon finds him again.
The narration and internal thoughts of Will are entertaining, with Jody Houser’s slick writing using Will’s imagination and how he applies his knowledge of fantasy realms to try and understand what is happening. This is a nice tool to use in order to flesh out the character, and provides several links back to plot points in the show, as do his actions and how he interacts with the Upside Down. Unfortunately, this is a double-edged sword; knowing the key events of Stranger Things, including Will’s ultimate fate, does take away from the tension here. Will’s story is intrinsically bound to what we have already seen, and although his viewpoint is obviously new, it does mean it would be hard to include anything truly novel in this series of comics. Still, Eleven’s cameo was a nice touch, and it will be interesting to see what Jody Houser brings in subsequent issues.
From a personal perspective, Will’s solitude also generates a unique problem with this story. Without anyone to talk to for the majority of the issue, we are left with Will’s thoughts and the narration, and we only get to see fragments of him talking to his friends. The interaction/dialogue of the characters is a key strength of Stranger Things, and its absence is noticeable here. The counterpoint to this is that Will (as played by Noah Schnapp) is not present for a large chunk of Stranger Things series one, his fate slowly revealed through each episode, and as such this comic has obvious benefits for development of his character. However, does this take some of the mystery of the Stranger Things series away? As of Stranger Things #1, there is no definitive answer to that question, but there is enough compelling story here to make Stranger Things #2 a recommended future read.
The art team of Stefano Martino (pencils) Keith Champagne (inking) and Lauren Affe (colours) have produced a high-quality comic, with good likenesses of the Stranger Things cast and a creepy blue-hued supernatural colour scheme for the Upside Down. The cautious progress of Will through this realm is broken up by his memories of the D&D game played earlier, panels of his own fantasy artwork (which was key in both series of Stranger Things) and an impressive single panel of the boy’s characters. These panels bring a nice splash of colour and detail to the story, and also serve to show us how Will’s imagination is keeping him going. The Demogorgon itself is also rendered in impressive detail, and has a genuinely threatening presence. Lettering from Nate Piekos leaves dialogue and narration clear and easy to read, and has fun with some of the SFX, most notably the mighty BLAM from the Demogorgon receiving a bullet to the face. The cover of this issue is by Tomm Coker, and has Will being hunted by the Demogorgon (in what looks like a tribute to The Thing) offset by the ‘mirror’ version of him playing D&D with his friends. Coker’s art is detailed and ominous, setting the tone nicely.
Stranger Things #1 is a well-produced, entertainingly written and visually impressive comic, and is a must for fans of Stranger Things. However, truly shocking revelations may be thin on the ground due to the story being unable to separate itself from key events in the show.
Stranger Things #1 is available from Dark Horse Comics.
Bummer. I was looking forward to this title and had really high hopes for it, but it didn’t include much of the creepy atmosphere, profound truths, or delicious suspense that I was expecting, and that the television show delivered in spades. Instead, it was rather a lukewarm plot with little actual substance, which is surprising coming from Jody Houser. The comic could have been an awesome addition to the story of the much loved show, but it falls very, very short of the line.
As far as the plot goes, I immediately felt cheated by the description. Apparently, this four issue arc was supposed to showcase Will Byers’ time in the Upside Down, so I was expecting oodles of eeriness, some explanation about the world, and why Will ended up there. However, I got none of that. A cheesy narrator spouts disjointed blurbs about what is happening, but most of the time, the visuals could tell us all of this. Will’s thoughts that are peppered throughout the panels don’t seem realistic; this kid should have been close to losing his frickin’ mind. I think this narrative tactic might have been an attempt to hearken back to the comics of the 80s, the time period in which Stranger Things is set, but it doesn’t succeed at all. The text is very simple and somewhat juvenile, even for kids, and doesn’t convey a sense of urgency or even spookiness, which is obviously what Stranger Things is all about. Very disappointing.
The parallel to the Dungeons & Dragons game could have been really neat, but it was just quite shallow and seemed hastily done, as if the creators just needed to fill space. If Will had reflected on the game as a way to keep himself sane, and thought maybe something magic had transported him to the D&D world, like sometimes happened in 80s fantasy movies, it could have been a really powerful idea. But, nope.
The only thing that really saved this comic for me was the art. It wasn’t dark enough and the expressions weren’t impactful enough, but it was drawn quite well. The characters were all recognizable, and I liked the style. I could see this artist doing great things with other comics, but unfortunately, this first issue doesn’t leave me with much hope for the next ones. There is nothing added to the mystery of the Upside Down; it was just a recap of what happened in the show, and not a faithful one at that. Also, it was way too short.
Review by: Tee LaFrance Todd