Created and written by Joe Hill. Art by Charles Paul Wilson III. Colors by Jay Fotos. Published by IDW.
I am deep diving through Joe Hill’s comic work thanks to the DC Black Label imprint, Hill House. Wraith spins out of his novel N0S4A2 which also became a TV series. I’m not sure if this story would make more sense if I had read the novel, or if it’s a twisted tale unto itself. Either way, Joe Hill has a mind as warped as his father’s and I will be clearing a shelf for his work.
Charlie Manx is, well, he’s something. A demon, an ageless monster, a vampire, a ghost, an extension of his vehicle? Maybe all of it and none of it. He’s a pied piper of a sandman encased in a monkey’s paw and this comic collection is part of his origins.
Manx is a bit of a freak born into a rough life in which he probably never stood a chance. He gets a glimpse of a good life and when that is taken away he descends into his new supernatural role. Some of this, I have to assume, was already in the novel. The unique take within the graphic novel is a group of prisoners who stage an escape while the transfer van is in the middle of no where. When their escape window closes one of them calls in a favor which happens to be picked up by Charlie Manx himself. HE takes the prisoners and the guards to Christmasland. A name that sounds so promising but the entrance beautifully flanked by candy canes is just the opposite side of an exit protected by icicle teeth.
The story is gross, it’s horrific, it hurts to read at times. Even the closest there is to good guys have shades of gray either in their souls or their hair. There’s no one to root for and as a reader I’m just along for the ride to inevitable death for all. Until one of the prisoners, Chess Llewllyn, lets his story unfold.
Chess is just another prisoner at first but the story behind his crimes makes sense. As a father myself, and I have to imagine Joe Hill is a dad as well, I understand his decisions. I would hope nothing in life would put me into his position. But I can empathise.
As a dad the story builds weight as each issue progresses. This is also a story of two kinds of children. Children who are lost and forgotten, and children who may have been lost but are thought of and loved every day.
That is also the difference to the supernatural powers which fuel the story. Manx and his minions are fueled by hate, abandonment, and pain. Chess is fueled by love. While the execution, and executions, may not stay on the side of good the pull of these extreme emotions is still just as strong.
Wraith is a dark, depressing, suffocating work that brings the reader to a point of blackness and only then reveals there is something lighter.