by Joe Hill
*Please note: This novel has mature ratings and this review uses mature language. May also contain some very small spoilers.*
The Wraith by Joe Hill, an addition to the NOS4A2 novel, is a graphic novel mindfuck, at least to the characters within the story since it’s a long ride to Christmasland. Having never read the original novel I can easily say it does well as a standalone novel, but I would love to read the original masterpiece. The Wraith is actually the dream-vehicle (Rolls-Royce no doubt) of Charlie Talent Manx III who has suffered his own horrors, which created Christmasland. Christmasland is not your Mom n’ Pops amusement park type: think Halloweentown does Christmasland with a little extra 30 Days of Night and maybe a small dose of Rob Zombie. I included a few pictures above of my favorite scenes from the graphic novel.
The standalone does include a prologue to cue in the new readers behind the happenstances of Charlie Manx III, who is fairly frightening to look at and one must wonder how a child is born to look like he belongs in the afterlife. Anyways, Charlie’s father was of course a douchebag and his mother was literally a whore. One day, his mother apparently “owes” a guy, Stanton, satisfaction (which she claims he lacks because of his “limp-dick”). Charlie, a young teen, finds himself in the clutches of this man attempting to get what he paid for. Here Charlie finds he has a special power to call upon the help of some evil spirits, manifested as snowmen, who kill his mother, his father, and Stanton. Life is peachy! Charlie continues to have issues down the road when he marries the woman he thought to be his dream. When her rich father dies and they must work hard to live, she begins to resent having children and being married to a man who can do no good. In Charlie’s eyes, she begins to resemble his mother who blamed him for the loss of her good looks. Charlie, ever-loving though, buys in to a scheme for the theme park Christmasland, which he must put down a second mortgage in order to cough up $10,000 for this man’s dream. Did I mention the scheme? Poor Charlie buys this Wraith and drives his family to the park to find that it does not exist. We also find that the Wraith has special powers as well.
Flash forward to more recent times where we find three convicts being transported in a police van. Dewey Hansom, who raped a young girl, looks much like one would expect a child rapist to look with big Hollywood glasses, a creepy mustache, and a beer gut. Sykes, a carnie geek, has eye tattoos and some tricks up his sleeve. Finally, Chess Llewellyn, a baseball pitcher turned aspiring teacher before landing in jail. His story is revealed as the story progresses, which is interesting. Two police officers are guarding the van, Kevin and Agnes. Kevin isn’t so important but Agnes gets a little special role in the character development area. These three convicts are about to meet Mr. Charlie Talent Manx III, which may or may not be a blessing in disguise.
Artfully creative and precise, Hill is able to transform every scene into its own masterpiece. As many mentioned in the original novel’s reviews, Hill does not waste a word. I flew through this novel, even with all the time I spent looking at the artwork, as detailed below, and explaining the storyline to my friend.
Unmistakably, Charles Paul Wilson III (who name is fairly similar to the main character…) is an amazing artist. Page after page of beautiful artwork. His ability to create depth, to imitate real life, to create darkness and hilarity and death all within the same page is remarkable. I found myself often going back to review pages of artwork and finding something new hiding within the pages. He actually builds a story on top of Joe’s story because his artwork speaks for itself. The guy has the ability to present motion, chaos, bright lights, etc. truly amazing work. Below are more images from the novel to demonstrate Charles’ artistry prowess:
Character and World Development
Joe appeared to focus on four main characters, as outlined below. Due to the complexity of the characters and the stories, I am not surprised that the original novel was 700 pages long.
Charlie Manx III: This character is conflicting. The reader is able to view why Charlie became the *monster* that he is and also see what he does in his spare time. I did not view Charlie as an evil character because I understood his personal motives. Charlie does not steal children because he’s a creepy fuck, unlike Mr. Hansom. He sees his mission as saving children from parents who did not value their children or used their children, or abused them, whatever. He then took the opportunity, through his partners, to clean up the parents that did not deserve to live because of how they treated their children.
I understand this may be a jump past the line for many, but in his world, which is describes in great depth and which actually does exist because of his will power, his actions are completely correct. Based on the knowledge given to the reader, the children do not wish to leave Christmasland nor do they resent Charlie for bringing them there, despite its less than Christmas-good-spirit feel. In reading the reviews for the original novel, it sounds as if Charlie is portrayed more as the evil character. I wonder if Hill decided to cast a new light on his character because of the reader response or if Charlie was always this character and maybe he did not get to shine his true light….
Agnes: I wonder Agnes’ purpose in this graphic novel. She becomes an emotional lover of sorts to Chess Llewellyn despite their apparent age difference. I like to think her purpose, as well as Llewellyn’s, is to demonstrate the differences between good and evil. Agnes was the antagonist to some of the characters, often bringing out their worse sides, but she inherently seems to care about humans and understands her charges. While it may seem that Christmasland is completely fucked up and kills anything that is not a child, it would appear that maybe it can differentiate (or maybe this is just the way Hill’s world works) between truly evil beings and those who maybe deserve another chance. Interpret the ending for yourself.
Chess Llewellyn: Oh Llewellyn, what a hard time you have had. As mentioned above, Llewellyn is in jail but his story is unraveled over the span of their adventure to Christmasland. He is not *actually* a bad guy, for all intents and purposes. Llewellyn is a bad guy from circumstance. His fate is unique to him and I would rather not give it away but I did want to point him out.
Mr. Hansom: Well, it is hard to have a horror novel without some nasty fuck who loves children. Hansom and Charlie had a deal where Charlie brought the abused kids to Christmasland (they were aspiring actors, or so their parents wanted them to be) and Hansom would clean up the awful parents. Hansom tended to get his way with the mothers which Charlie was okay with as long as the children remained untouched. Remember, Charlie really is all about the children and does not appear to be anything other than a caretaker. Well Hansom must have done something to piss off Charlie because Mr. Manx III does not truly seem to want to help Hansom… you can probably guess his fate from the images!
Because of this graphic novel, I intend to purchase the original novel that started the adaptation. I even realized that he is the author of Locke & Key, which is a graphic novel series that I want to follow. Hill has won the Bram Stoker Award and Ray Bradbury Fellowship as well as being a New York Times Bestseller for several of his other novels. It is evident that Hill has tremendous talent in the horror genre and I wish he would gain more popularity to rival that of Stephen King or even Clive Barker. His genre is a little darker, gorier, and taboo (rape, abuse against women and children, etc. are generally taboo) but the talent is immense. I cannot recommend this novel more and I hope to be able to recommend his other novels as well.
*I have received this book in exchange for an honest review*
Title: The Wraith
Author: Joe Hill
Number of Pages: 172
Original Publication: 05 August 2014
Joe Hill’s New York Times Bestselling novel, NOS4A2, introduced readers to the terrifying funhouse world of Christmasland, and the mad man who rules there: Charlie Talent Manx III.
Now, in an original new comic mini-series, Hill throws wide the candy cane gates to tell a standalone story that is at once both accessible to new readers, and sure to delight fans of the book.
Book Review Locations:
Amazon (to be posted)