The Monsters Among Us: Reviewing ‘Specs’ #3
by Scott Redmond
‘Specs’ #3 keeps a tight focus on the characters at the heart of this story giving a compelling painful focus to the overall horror vibe, making the reality scarier than the fantastical fiction. Striking to behold on every page, this is a story that will resonate for years because the messages contained within and the imagery are so recognizable they will speak to audiences of any type.
There are a number of established formulas of a sort for natural escalation within stories no matter the medium used. In comics, a mini-series is often a perfect venue to tell a story using one of those formulas to ease folks in before reaching the penultimate issue where one can pull out all the stops in service of escalation before the conclusion. Specs is a series that has used that sort of formula perfectly.
In prior reviews, I praised how this series has been structured; if you haven’t guessed, that is not changing now. We were eased in with the first issue to establish the characters, the specs from the title, and what Ted and Kenny used them for. With the second issue, we started to see the blowback, and the focus was heavily on interpersonal issues including the reality of small-town bigotry. Now in the third, those stops were all pulled out and we see even more of the racial tension of this small town, and we go full-on supernatural to find out the curse/secret of these wish-granting specs. Basically, the proverbial shit has hit the fan and things have gotten decidedly real for the characters, even if some of that real is really out there.
A hallmark of David M. Booher’s work is that the characters, whether major or minor in the story, just feel like genuine people with depth and a reason for being. Even though we’ve only known Kenny and Ted for two issues, there is an emotional attachment to them and what they are going through. Their situations, even though it’s the ’80s, are still unfortunately very relatable for so many living in our modern day, and their desires to escape from that backfiring pains us. We feel it even more through the hard reality of how quickly this small town has turned on Ted, the bile they are spouting as they condemn this young man without any proof of wrongdoing.
As Kenny points out, Skunk was missing for more than a week, and no one bothered even to notice yet they were quick to want to tear Ted apart for nothing. Sure, the glasses have a horror element of their own, especially when we meet one of the previous users during Kenny’s quest, but the real horror always circles back to humanity itself. Even though it pulls from our dark reality, stories like this always resonate because it puts a mirror to our world and unflinchingly point at the stuff that so many ignore or want to hide. Sometimes the only monsters that exist are us.
I pointed at the realness of this situation and these characters; we don’t just feel that on the page but see it. Chris Shehan and Roman Stevens fully set the mood of this series by creating a world that could be any small town, so full of detail and depth as well as the darkness that is ever-present. Nothing feels static or standing still with the way that Shehan frames with panels, a perfect sense of movement can be felt as we gaze over every panel. A tight focus on characters as they spout terrible things or linger on an empty stairwell with just wet footprints set the mood and keeps the serious horrible tone no matter where we are in the story.
We’re headed for the endgame already and naturally, things have to ramp up in that time, and we get that here with a lot of the shots I just mentioned. They pull us through this world and illuminate what characters are doing and how they feel. A perfect example has Kenny sitting sadly on a bus to find the makers of these glasses, with a ring of panels going clockwise down the right side showcasing footage of Ted under duress spending hours in the interrogation room. Not a single word has to be said for us to feel the sadness and frustration these characters are going through. It’s conveyed to us in a beautiful heartbreaking sequence.
One hallmark color sequence that sets the tone in this series is the use of a very neon-like green that has played into each issue so far. It’s that color we see in the bus, as it reminds us of the other tense horror-tinged moments in the previous issues. We see this a lot with how Stevens brings the colors into play, choosing to use a more toned-down palate for most of the spaces which allow the more fantastical moments or mood-setting moments to be brighter and stand out even more. That especially plays during that trip next to the stark, at times pure black, darkness that is surrounding the character on this rainy night.
I love when darkness feels authentically dark in a comic because it not only makes things potentially feel far more confining (as night can do at times) but it adds that layer of reality. It’s not a fake lighter night that we see at times in media, meant to make things more visible rather than deal in reality which I totally get. Just like with the green these shadows and darkness work entirely when we get to the specs-related moments that run with a red hue, as Kenny begins to find out the origin and secrets of the glasses and the trouble they bring.
If we’re pointing at keeping to a mood or tone, Jim Campbell always manages to do that easily with the lettering work. Emotions are clear as day within the text, allowing us to hear that feeling and what tone their words are taking on as we read. Not just that, but there are plenty of awesome changes made to lettering to make things pop more or feel scarier. Like the dialogue and caption boxes for the skeletal prom queen who got the terrible wish, she wanted from the specs. Jagged bubbles with creepy font, perfect for someone that is long dead and speaking from beyond the grave to Kenny at this moment, standing against his far more ‘normal’ looking dialogue and captions.
Speaking of normal I really enjoy the ways that Campbell works to set a normal sort of tone so that when the words get bolder or bigger or smaller it instantly pints that the characters are louder or quieter. This is an important thing to see because as we’re reading it tells us how we should be hearing the words, cluing in that someone is yelling or whispering in a far clearer way. No guesswork is required, it’s clear as day on that page.
Specs #3 is now available from BOOM! Studios.