Monday, April 28, 2014

Sickness in the Family: A Review

Sickness in the Family
Written by: Denise Mina
Illustrated By: Antonio Fuso Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Vertigo
Language: English
October 2010
Genre: Comic/Mystery

Meet the Ushers. The parents, Ted and Biddy. Grandma Martha. The three kids, William, Amy and Sam. Just a normal, middle-class family gathered around the table on Christmas Day. Until they start dying. Violent deaths. One by one. Is there a curse on their house, as a recently unearthed history of witchcraft in the area would suggest? Or has one member of the Usher clan declared open season on the rest? As secrets and resentments boil to the surface, it becomes clear that more than one Usher has a motive for killing off the others. But in the end, the truth turns out to be far more shocking than anyone in this ill-fated family could have imagined.


I have been trying to decide whether I should form a Comic Book 101 group for the geek gals. I have always been extremely fond of comics and think they get a bad rap. People always just assume it is nothing but caped crusaders and masked superheroes. I think Denise Mina and I would disagree. In an effort to read even more graphic novels I turned to the mystery/thriller/crime genre. It is not a genre that I read a lot, which is a shame as there is some great stuff out there. So when I went to the library I had to pick this guy up.

The Ushers look like your typical family albeit a bit dysfunctional, but who isn’t these days. Ted and Biddy, Biddy’s mom Martha, and the three grown children William, Amy and Sam have all come together for Christmas. Tragedy strikes when a horrible murder takes place in the basement flat they let out. Ted quickly decides that this means this is the perfect time to incorporate the flat back into the house as that has been his plan for many years. Then family members start to die. First Grandma Martha falls through the hole one night; a drop of almost thirty feet. She suffers a stroke and can no longer take care of herself. The rest of the family could care less, and it is up to Sam to care for Martha. Ted and his wife Biddy are having problems and seeing a marriage counselor, William is kicked out of school, and Amy just wants money. Sam seems to be the only sane member of the family. As Sam investigates he begins to wonder is it because of the wrath of a witch who was burnt at the stake there in the 1500s? Or has one of the remaining family members decided to get rid of the rest, each of whom has a surprisingly good reason for wanting the others dead?

Things I loved: Ooh dysfunction at its best. Everyone is selfish, with the exception of Sam, it seems. They bicker, they fight, and are downright nasty. Sam tries to hold it all together, but in the end he understands that he is the outsider. Maybe that is a good thing, being adopted and not quite having all of this in the blood. Perhaps.

This is a great little gothic horror mystery, one that had a twist I wasn’t quite expecting though definitely had my guesses. The art is black and white with fairly stark lines and a lot of shadowing. I think it fits with the comic overall and is still gruesome even without the splashes of red.

Things I didn’t love so much: The narrative was a bit uneven at times, though overall the pacing was nice. Also, while I like a good mystery and thriller you have to make a few of the characters sympathetic. At the beginning of the story the family sits around in dysfunctional dinner bliss while their tenant is beaten and murdered. No one lifts a finger. So when they start dying do I really care? Not really. So as a whole the story, because I could not feel any sympathy for the characters, was missing that great hook I was looking for.

Buy or Borrow: Borrow. This won’t be for everyone. It has some great things about it that I really liked, but some things I also really didn’t like.

Part of: Stand Alone

Also Recommended: If you are looking for some mystery/crime comics please try: Criminal by Ed Brubaker, Fell by Warren Ellis, Torso by Brian Michael Bendis, and Queen and Country by Greg Rucka.

2.75 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks 

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