Strange Embrace is a terrifically twisted gothic tale of love and lust, betrayal and madness, diseases of the body and the mind. In grand gothic style, it’s replete with sexual and artistic obsessions, mad, sequestered relatives, false deaths, and more. This description makes it sound a bit campy but Strange Embrace could not be further from campy.
It is, as Peter Milligan writes in his introduction, shocking and very, very dark.
It’s also a minor masterpiece of modern horror comics.
And though District X is getting good reviews, it’s hard to imagine that comic being as good as Strange Embrace. Because this comic is near brilliant.
Along with being a top-notch gothic, Strange Embrace also mixes in multiple homicides and at least one disturbing young man with mental powers.
Intertwining the stories of a number of characters, the lynchpin of the action is Anthony Corbeau, a creepy old man when we first meet him, but a tortured, strange young man in the flashbacks that make up most of the book. The comic traces Anthony’s story by shifting its focus across the various people in his life – his father Edward, his mother Agnes, his wife Sarah, and a homicidal man who takes an unsavory interest in him, Alex.
The present-day motion of the story is created by Alex’s prying into Anthony’s deepest secrets and his desire for revenge against those who have wronged him. Needless to say, Alex lossens the patchwork of denial and defense that Anthony has covered over his past with disastrous results.
Hine handles the whole tautly plotted tale masterfully, delivering genuine shocks and unexpected turns in the story.
His art is creepily angular, his imagery filthily Freudian, his writing deft. The characters are well-drawn and given room to breathe. The narrative’s shifting focus allows us to see various events from multiple angles, only able to fill in the true, deep implications of the events and the characters’ reactions at the end when all aspects of the event are revealed.
Strange Embrace shares some thematic territory with Clive Barker’s Hellraiser movies and stories, and that territory extends far beyond the image on the cover of the book. Some of the characters from Strange Embrace would feel entirely comfortable in a room with Barker’s cenobites and their torture devices.
But where Hellraiser is mystical and supernatural, almost all of Strange Embrace is grounded in human pathos and terror. Alex’s telepathy is the one exception, and despite being the villain of the piece and the most hateful character (though, that’s debatable), he’s not even the scariest creature in the story.
This review feels as though it hardly does the book justice. The book’s that good. I may return to it again, in fact, for further investigation, if I can find a way to better distill my admiration for the book.
In the meantime, check out Strange Embrace to get a glimpse of what is so amazing about this minor masterpiece.