The Chair #1 Review: Atmospheric, But Lacking In Character

the Chair

A man on death row for a crime he didn't commit, surrounded by the worst monsters humanity can produce, and all he has are his thoughts. The guards outside the cells are just as evil as the murderers and rapists on the inside. No one cares about them, and no one notices when they go missing.

This is the setting for Peter Simeti and Kevin Christensen's The Chair, a new horror offering from Alterna Comics.

The main character is a man named Richard Sullivan, and the first issue is spent setting up the scenario and giving us a bit of a background on our protagonist. He was a normal man with a family who had a dispute with his boss. Soon after, 12 people were killed, including his boss's kid, and Sullivan was blamed. Ten years of trials and appeals have occurred since then, and Sullivan is on death row.

The all-around alienating atmosphere of this world is made abundantly clear in this first issue. The people in the cells around Sullivan are heinous beasts, but the guards abuse and injure the prisoners in perverse manners. This goes up until the point where one of the only other innocent men in the block, a vet by the name of Jimmy, is brutally killed by guards.

The Chair is a gruesome and grimy world brought to life by the art of Christensen and Simeti. The gritty style and monochrome coloring of a harsh world brings to mind James O'Barr's The Crow.

The Chair #1 Review: Atmospheric, But Lacking In Character

That being said, The Chair is not a perfect comic book. There are a number of problems that hinder the comic to a significant degree.

Firstly, this is a comic that calls for an understanding of the grey areas of morality. However, everything is set up in black and white (pun totally intended). There is no sympathy or even a true recognition of humanity for the prisoners who aren't Sullivan and Jimmy. The inmates are either innocent and good or they're guilty and evil. They're treated like ravenous animals. When you're telling a story about this topic, at least acknowledging that there is a person in there who has made some unthinkably bad decisions — or has genuine mental health issues — would make the world feel more nuanced.

Speaking of nuance, there is a very binary "yes-or-no" on the question of guilt and innocence. Sullivan has written off all other inmates except for himself and Jimmy as guilty. The depiction of these characters and even spotlighting their actions shows that the narrative is on the side of his assumption. However, very few people, even in this scenario, are going to cop to their actions. Even then, they may still be lying. Even Jimmy could be lying, for all Sullivan really knows. Truth becomes relative in a place like that. The comic acknowledges the "everyone says that they're innocent" cliché in the opening page, but it never acknowledges the possibility of the relativity of truth again for the rest of the comic.

Making the guards into cruel overlords doesn't remedy the problem, as they are expected to be antagonistic to the prisoners in a prison story like this.

There are a couple of instances of establishing facts only to restate them in the dialogue. On that note, the dialogue does fall a bit flat at times with exposition, and the aforementioned black-and-white moral posturing hurts the quality of the dialogue in spots.

The introduction and background of Jimmy was shockingly unnecessary, as he was killed immediately after we learn his background. In fact, he was barely a character. He could have been an anonymous prisoner who asked for food from Sullivan and then was brutally killed for all his part in the story did.

The art, while mostly good, does leave some scenes a bit hard to decipher. The death of Jimmy particularly left me a bit confused; I had to go back and re-read the scene to figure out what was going on. Once I realized he was killed, I couldn't tell if it was by electric shock or closing a cell on him. It took more studying after that to determine that it was the cell, but even then, I wouldn't bet money on that answer.

While The Chair is dripping with atmosphere, it does have a lot of narrative flaws that keep it from being as good as Shadows on the Grave, a superior horror series on the shelf right now. I can tentatively recommend it to a horror fan, but it is severely flawed.

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Joshua DavisonAbout Joshua Davison

Josh is a longtime super hero comic fan and an aspiring comic book and fiction writer himself. He also trades in videogames, Star Wars, and Magic: The Gathering, and he is also a budding film buff. He's always been a huge nerd, and he hopes to contribute something of worth to the wider geek culture conversation. He is also happy to announce that he is the new Reviews Editor for Bleeding Cool. Follow on Twitter @joshdavisonbolt.
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