It hardly needs to be said that the original televised incarnation of The Twilight Zone (1959-1964) was a high water mark for fantastic fiction. The second (1985-1989) was a more than worthy successor that drew on notable talents like Wes Craven and Stephen King (Gramma, a first season episode adapted from King’s short story by Harlan Ellison is almost unbearably terrifying). The third (and to date last) TV go-round was a U.S.-Canada co-production lasted just a single season (2002-2003); which is fitting considering it’s quite mediocre.
Unfortunately, Dynamite’s new TZ comic series, Shadow & Substance, is quite reminiscent of the latter.
Giving a good indication of how little subtlety will be in play here, writer Mark Rahner introduces us to a celebrated horror author named William Gaunt, who’s returning to his hometown for a book signing. However, it’s not a joyous homecoming. When William was little Billy Gaunt, he lived with an abusive, alcoholic monster of a mother. In a plot device that was used at least twice in TZ 1.0 (Nightmare as a Child, Walking Distance), Gaunt is transported into his own past where he interacts with his younger self.
It’s also the day before a significant (and unpleasant) childhood event Gaunt now hopes to circumvent. Issue 1 ends with a “To be continued,” and that’s indicative of the fundamental problem with Shadow & Substance. Rod Serling or any of his original team of writers (including speculative fiction greats like Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson) could’ve wrapped this comparatively simple premise up in the 20 pages Rahner had available, but he’s unable to bring any of the vital quality that defines the best Twilight Zone writing: economy.
There’s also an overall sloppiness to the writing that’s distracting. Rahner simply puts Gaunt behind the wheel of a vintage muscle car at the airport where we know it’s still the present because someone observes how out of date his wrist watch is, and he arrives on the streets of his childhood. There’s no clear demarcation point, no sense of mystery to the journey, and thus little reason for one to feel invested in what else is to come.
Artists Edu Menna and Thiago Ribiero do fine work, but simply can’t overcome the writing. It’ll take nothing less than the most ingenious twist ending in TZ history to redeem this chapter.