Something is Killing the Children, Vol. 1

Written by James Tynion IV
Illustrated by Werther Dell’Edera
Colored by Miguel Muerto
Lettered by Andworld Design

In a lot of genre fiction, especially horror, there’s an unspoken rule that no matter what horrible things happen within the story, the kids will be fine. Kids are there to raise the stakes and give protagonists someone to protect, but there’s rarely doubt they’ll survive the story. Sure, little Danny Torrance might be traumatized for life after his deranged father tried to kill him in The Shining, but at least physically, Danny came out in one piece. BOOM! Studios’ Something is Killing the Children, now available in trade, is predicated on a subversion of that trope, as you likely guessed from the title.

With their first volume, James Tynion IV, Werther Dell’Edera, Miguel Muerto, and Andworld Design make it clear that nobody in the small town of Archer’s Peak is safe. Least of all the children, as they’re taken one-by-one by an elusive, terrifying force that adults are unable to perceive. You could be forgiven for making Stranger Things comparisons, but Something is Killing the Children is more thematically mature than Netflix’s ’80s sci-fi pastiche, and smarter too.

SIKtC is a slow burn so far. That’s how I prefer my horror; the time spent laying the groundwork for dread to creep in is crucial, and I appreciate the thoughtfulness with which the creators build this melancholy world and cast. It’s not just about fear. It’s about how hopeless and alienated a community, especially its young people, can feel in the face of tragedy.

It picks up in a big way towards the end of this initial collection, as more attention is paid to a mysterious stranger in town named Erica Slaughter. With a name like that, you’d probably expect her to be a monster-hunting action hero in the same vein as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That’s only partially true. Despite Tynion’s CV full of DC superhero fare like Batman and Justice League Dark, Something is Killing the Children is not remotely a superhero comic, and Erica is not a superhero. Sure, she appears to be Archer’s Peak’s best hope against whatever is causing kids to disappear, but we’re never led to believe she can keep everyone, or even anyone, safe.

Erica’s origins and motivations will surely be explored in further installments, but I might be even more interested in James, an awkward teenage boy whose friends were butchered by the unnamed force. I don’t want to jump to conclusions about authorial intent, but I can’t imagine James Tynion IV named his protagonist James by accident. I don’t know what SiKtC’s James has in common with his co-creator beside both being dark-haired, bespectacled, and queer, but i have to assume there’s something deeply personal here on Tynion’s part.

My fixation on that connection isn’t meant to diminish from the excellent work of his collaborators. I’m also fascinated by the lettering by Andworld Design. There’s a subtle, yet foreboding scratchiness even to the word balloons of these ordinary humans. It’s never over-the-top, or even something you’ll likely notice at first glance, but it’s a constant, almost subconscious reminder that something terrible is lurking around the corner.

Werther Dell’Edera’s line art is also impressive. The monster design is appropriately grotesque and terrifying, like nothing I’ve ever seen before, but as with any good horror story, the creatures are only shown sparingly. Most of the story revolves around ordinary people, though, and Dell’Edera excels at capturing the more mundane moments too. There’s a quiet eeriness throughout, but the dominant emotion at the heart of this book is sadness, even as that relates so strongly to fear.

Similarly, Miguel Muerto’s somewhat muted palette matches the somber tale’s creepy tone, but he throws in bright, shocking splashes of color during intense moments where it really counts. Gray is the dominant color throughout most of the volume, and that’s a sensible atmospheric choice. Don’t let it fool you into thinking Something is Killing the Children is a dull comic.

Something is Killing the Children‘s slow start may discourage some readers, but its first volume has loads of promise for patient ones. With reader support, I’m optimistic that this could grow into something really special, so I’ll definitely have the next arc on my radar.