Advance Review: ‘Misty Winter Special’ – Getting Infected With The Chills For The Holiday Season

by Richard Bruton

The Misty Winter Special 2020, bringing back a classic title from the late ’70s, featuring two tales to send just that little bit of a wintery chill down your spine… Home For Christmas and Infection, both of them great but Infection shines as a perfectly constructed slow burn horror for these modern times.

Cover by Simon Davis

Okay, like I said, both of the stories in here are good, but I’ll straight out say it that V V Glass and Anna Savory deliver greatness with Infection, another shoo-in to the best of the year list.

After previous years of going down the anthology route with Misty & Scream Specials for Halloween, here we switch to the format used in the summer’s Tammy & Jinty Special, just two strips, allowing us to settle into a far more luxurious and beneficial page count – 36 pages for Infection and 12 pages of Home For Christmas and that extra page count really does make a huge difference. I’m in no way against anthology works, but there are definite benefits to that expanded page count, something that particularly works with Infection.

So, first off – Infection by V V Glass and Anna Savory gives us a classic take on the something very bad happening in the girls’ school thing, whilst Home For Christmas by Lizzie Boyle and David Roach goes for the just as classic Christmas ghost-ish tale. Both of them really get into the spirit of the Misty stories of old, more psychological horrors to chill and scare rather than the gore-fest laden mess that too much horror is all about these days.

But seriously, Infection is one of the best things I’ve read this year. Yep, that good.

It opens with that most dreadful of things, the awful personal reflection journal, used here as a neat narrative device, allowing Infection to set its tone and slowly unfold a really nightmarish tale.

Of course, to begin with, what we get is the horror that is a girls’ private boarding school, particularly if you happen to be the poor girl on the scholarship. Right from the off, it’s full of so many delightful, wonderful small touches from Glass and Savory, never clobbering us over the head with things, just building up character and tone of the school and the kids – there’s a perfect example here on page three – no explanation needed, just the Asda label marking our lead out as the outsider in this classic all-girls private boarding school setting, an environment that’s always the perfect proof of the adage about money not being able to buy class…

That’s Char, short for Charlotte, although here in school she’s been landed with Lottie, just one of many in the school. She’s the poor kid here att he posh boarding school on the commoner science scholarship, and she’s obviously way smarter than all the little Indias around her.

And then you have the necessary broad strokes for the posh private school kids, all done in near caricature perhaps, but they really do capture the different personalities nicely. For example, India, the one with a mom who ‘casts birth charts for the yoga community of Kensington and Chelsea‘, a spoilt little brat, absorbing all her mom’s anti-vax idiocy…

So, in the opening, you get to see so many of those great little moments, with Glass and Savory packing in everything needed to very quickly, very effectively, build up the whole picture of where we are and who the characters are. All of Char’s experiences of being the common girl, the outsider in a place where you have to stick to the rules, have to fit in, initially it’s all geared to the old ideas of boarding school stories and the horrors of being someone different – always the worst thing in any group of kids.

And then they slowly, slowly, slowly switch things up, making it an absolute creeper of a horror tale (and aren’t they always the best?) that takes all the time it needs to deliver something that gets in your bones.

So… there’s some sort of mandatory immunisation program to do with something unsaid, then the slow changes that we see all the girls going through, all of it documented by Char and her diary/ journal/ log/ field notes thing – is it weird trolling en masse or is it something a lot more disturbing, control and conformity enforced somehow? Maybe it is, maybe it’s not – and the gloriously slow playing out of all that is just why Infection really does work so damn well.

It happens so slowly, with Char seeing the entire school slowly changing around her. She runs the theories, works the evidence, until she comes to the Holmes-ian conclusion of having eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. But this is no Holmes plot of course, Char has no agency here, she’s just a very smart kid up against the world. No matter what the evidence, she just doesn’t really have the power to do much except watch things getting worse, noting everything down as she does.

All in all, Infection just works perfectly. It does that thing that’s so rare, using its 36 pages to tell a story that many others would have not been able to do so well in double, triple the page count. And yet despite getting so much in here in terms of character, setting, and mood, Infection has such a fabulously slow to unfold feel about it.

One thing that didn’t really occur to me until a second read is that most of it happens in bright, well-lit scenes, with Glass and Savory deliberately shying away from using that particular horror shortcut, just one of the many times they do that in here, yet still they manage to get all the chills into the story – yes, that’s a really impressive thing for a really impressive strip.

Hell, there’s even time for various moments to add some levity to it all, never better than this…

And no, despite the laughter, there was no loss of the accumulation of chills happening with that lighter moment. Now that’s a very very good sign in a story like this.

So, clever storytelling, great plotting, and of course there’s V V Glass’ artwork.

Oh yes, Glass’ artwork. Again, it goes against so many of the obvious horror cliches, being so bright and colourful and almost veering into something of a caricature at times.

There’s this simplicity to the artwork, yet her character work has this depth to it that comes not from the number of lines they put on a page but the way in which they use the line – that simplicity of line, the flow that they create through each page, things that look so easy and simple – that’s the hardest thing to get right. And I think Glass gets it ever so right. I mean… just look at the art I’ve included here.

Simply put, Infection is a really really good, great even, work of comics and one that absolutely nails the ideas of Misty of old, updated for today. Now, have a look at the first couple of pages as a special treat for you…

So, that was three-quarters of this Misty Special, which brings us to what is something of a back-up strip, with Lizzie Boyle and David Roach‘s Home for Christmas.

The thing is, after having such an excellent lead-off story, Home For Christmas, unfortunately, struggles to get to the same levels. And that’s a shame because if this was sitting alongside other equal length strips in an anthology, it would very probably be one of the stand-outs. As it is though, it’s here as a very good runner-up.

Some of what makes it a lesser work is that it does really lean heavily into all the old familiar bits of everything you’ve ever read or seen with this sort of ghost story – the babysitter in a big house on a nasty Christmas Eve night, the fact that the house used to be an old orphanage, circumstances leading to the babysitter having to stay overnight… everything in place in a very familiar horror movie template. Then again, that familiarity is also a lot of what makes it fun as well, the sort of comfort blanket of the familiar.

It continues as we get that old chestnut of the babysitter and the kids doing a dumb thing, going outside to get signal on a phone, which ends up down a well. Yes, the horror references are strong with this one… One of the kids she’s babysitting starts acting all weird and the babysitter starts getting photos – from down the well, from outside the house, outside the window, closer and closer and closer…

And after that comes the comic equivalent of the jump scare, turn the page to see what’s causing the trouble, that sort of thing.

So yes, it’s a strip full of classic horror tropes, which of course are classic way to mount the tension, up to and including that jump scare and the foreshadowed supernatural threat to all inside the house. But that doesn’t really matter all that much, it’s predictable yes but Home For Christmas is also a really enjoyable and very well done short tale, and of course David Roach delivers his perfect art throughout it all but, in comparison to Infection, it’s definitely the minor piece in here, a nicely done, perfectly drawn bit of seasonal chill.

Misty Winter Special 2020 is out Wednesday December 9th for Rebellion

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