Deviant #1 written by James Tynion IV, art by Joshua Hixson, is, on the surface, a perfectly delightful slasher comic (delightful in the sense it is pitch perfect horror). All the elements (some which seem autobiographical) of the slasher genre are there – the crazed psychopath in a Santa Claus costume menaces a small town, while his innocent victims start to rapidly pile up against a backdrop of a snowy Christmas somewhere in the USA. Coupled with Hixson’s art, if Tynion had left it at that, this would be a fine, if slightly unmemorable book.
But Deviant #1 is much more than a simple slasher comic. Like a lot of horror today, it couples the Horror (the blood and guts and terror) with the horror (the interior lives of the characters informing the themes of the title and adding weight, poignancy and a great deal of dread to the reading experience). Thanks to Tynion’s deft hand the reader gets to experience both sides of the H/horror coin.
Deviant #1 shuttles between the main character, Michael, living in 2023, and the horrifying murders committed in 1973. Michael is a comic book writer (see what I mean about possibly being autobiographical?) in search of a story. He finds it in the shape of Randall Olsen, a man convicted in 1973 for a series of murders and now finds himself languishing in prison. Both Michael and Randall are gay. The changes in how a gay man like Michael lives his life today is grimly contrasted with Randall, a closeted man who lived in a time and place where homosexuality was very much condemned.
The heart of Deviant #1 lies in the interview Michael conducts with Randall. In a twisting back and forth that reveals as much about each character as it disturbingly hints at, Michael comes ostensibly across a free man, able to come and go as he pleases and live his life as he chooses. But all through the interview you sense that he feels trapped. Trapped by his career, trapped by his relationship (which in and of itself seems a little odd) and trapped by memories of his childhood. Paradoxically, it is Randall who seems most at ease throughout the interview, despite having spent the last fifty years locked up for a crime he may not have committed. It is a tense and twisty conversation, with Randall having the upper hand from the start, gently teasing information from Michael that reveals much about him as a character, and also his past.
The central horror of Deviant #1 lies in the sense of dread that Tynion builds and builds until you can just about feel the comic groan under the pressure. Hixson’s artwork masterfully builds on that dread, creating a world suffocatingly trapped by the encroaching winter, as well as the cold and dank confines of the prison. The flashbacks to 1973 are well handled, and you will never look at a darkened department store with the same innocent interest again. Be warned; Hixson doesn’t hold back in depicting the murders that occur – they are truly shocking, but essential for maintaining the atmosphere of the story, and also conveying the menace of the killer.
It doesn’t feel appropriate to say I loved Deviant #1, but you know what, I did. It’s extremely well written, and given Tynion’s long history of horror comics writing, there’s no surprise there. The central relationship between Randall and Michael shares some of the same DNA as the bond between Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs. The artwork is simply amazing – Hixson’s ability to go from the bright Christmas lights of 2023 and 1973, to the mind cracking horror of the last few pages, is second to none.
Both elements – the writing and the artwork – make Deviant #1 a must buy.