The Horror Of Granted Wishes: Reviewing ‘Specs’ #1
by Scott Redmond
‘Specs’ debut issue quickly showcases how the series is a powerfully grounded emotional and character-driven horror series that speaks to so many real-world situations in an authentic and refreshing way. Grounded horror that has a supernatural tinge but otherwise feels realistic is always a fun situation to explore, especially when the world we’re brought into feels so lived in and developed. A must-read for fans of horror or just teen-related life experience drama.
While the ability to wish and have it instantly magically granted isn’t something that is a reality for human society (as far as we know at least, or not yet at least), stories that carry a warning about being careful what you wish for are everywhere. BOOM Studios’ latest series takes us into that realm in an intriguing science fiction horror sort of way set in the ’80s with Specs #1.
As soon as I heard about this series I was instantly intrigued, both because of the concept but also because I’ve been greatly enjoying the work that David M. Booher has been doing over on All-New Firefly (check out those reviews here). Over there Booher has done a great job at diving deep into an already established but usually flat character and turned him into a deeper, more emotionally rounded character. Coming in with expectations of a similar character-focused nature, this first issue did not disappoint at all.
We’re given a good bit of reflection at the start with the modern-day version of Kenny, and I like how Booher frames it where this moment was important to the past but at the same time life kept on going. In many cases, this is what happens with most of us, even when there are heavily weighted events that happen in our younger (sometimes formative) years. Within a few pages, we quickly learn much about Kenny, and soon enough about Ted, so by the time the issue closes we’re invested in them and can feel the blow as they face the horror of what wishes have brought to their reality.
As a lifelong comic book reader, the idea that the wish-granting specs came from those old novelty product ads from classic comics was perfect. Exactly the sort of thing that as a kid you always thought “Sure it’s a novelty/gag but…what if it actually did work?” This is a question that Kenny and Ted probably wish they didn’t have the answer to right now, too bad the specs probably can’t do that.
Another structural element I appreciated was making sure to quickly, through montage and narration, set the rules when it comes to the magic wishes. Nothing huge or world-changing, just smaller-scale successes of sorts, keeping this out of the realm of wishes can break the world. It ups the stakes especially once we learn what Kenny’s biggest heartfelt hidden desire really is and then once they make the final wish of the issue that takes things into the horror realm. Using the modern panels to show us ahead of time so that we knew it was coming (but not the how, which still hit us) and never was resolved makes it all even scarier.
With any story that belongs to a certain genre, the right energy is needed to make sure that it feels real and that the genre’s feelings hit us harder. We fully get that here with the work that Chris Shehan and Roman Stevens are putting on the pages. Together they create a world that feels very real and deep and lived within, almost like it could be happening in any town around us, in a very hazy grounded way that keeps the darkness around to remind us what is looming. Shehan has a very detailed and deep style, and I really like the way that various moments are placed into panels.
There is a great order to it that shifts focus from bigger moments to smaller things like the opening page. We get a shot of the missing notice on a milk carton, pan out to a hand holding the carton before we’re moving through the house right into the past without ever seeing Kenny of the present day other than lower body/hand shots. When we do get to see people their emotions and their personalities shine through the fantastic facial and bodywork that is being done, we don’t have to guess at anything as Shehan makes sure we see and feel it all.
The same goes for the way that Stevens colors this world. Nothing is overly bright or over the top, like you might want or need for a big sci-fi story or a superhero story, they are more ‘drab’ or muted in a way that makes them feel a lot more real. At the same time, it makes sense in some cases because we’re spending our time in the past so having the colors not be as bright or vivid as maybe they could be speaks to the fact that this is a memory basically and we’re witnessing it all. We do get splashes of brighter highlight colors here or there to set the mood, and as noted the shadows are always around both realistically and also to keep the horror/ominous mood there even when things are going well for the main characters.
Another person that I became familiar with from the world of Firefly is Jim Campbell who brings his lettering talents to this series. Every word on the page is just dripping with energy and personality, as Campbell allows it to flow around the page in a natural and easy-to-follow way. There are fantastic uses of italics or shrunk fonts to make sure we can see a whisper next to bigger fonts for a yell, but also a great use of sentence case to have softer words within a normal sentence (like the use of um that Kenny drops in a few times).
Speaking of sentence case, saving that for the captions, which look like they are written by Kenny of the future as the font is handwriting-like, is a great choice. Not only does it set it apart from the dialogue lettering, but it also plays into the feeling of it being something written down or being narrated by Kenny as it of course is.
Specs #1 is now available from BOOM! Studios.