Comic Review: The Awakening

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Writer: Neal Shaffer
Artist: Luca Genovese
Publisher: Oni Press

It’s pretty simple, I think, for readers out there to figure out whether they’re going to like Oni Press’ new horror graphic novel, The Awakening: if you like giallo, especially Dario Agento’s Suspiria, you’ll like The Awakening.

But that may be the only way you’ll like it.

Giallo is the well-known Italian horror subgenre that grafts mystery, serial killers, and sometimes supernatural elements together to create a unique form. Gialli (as the plural goes) tend to feature elaborate kill scenes, substantial misdirection about the killer’s identity, and a strong current (whether overt or subtextual) of sex.

They also feature, in many cases, bad acting, bad overdubbing, and silly plots.

The Awakening is made from healthy doses of all of the elements that create a giallo.

The story follows new-girl-at-school Francesca, an Italian transfer student to the storied and prestigious Grenrock Academy. After arriving and making some friends, things go strange: one of her friends is murdered in the school parking lot and when she tries to stop the murder, she’s also attacked and sent into a coma.

It’s while in a coma – a strange place for a story’s main character to be for most of the graphic novel, by the way – that she develops the ability to foresee the murders of her other friends at school. In the finest giallo tradition, how these powers work or where they come from is never explained.

Meanwhile, machinations at the school hint at a deeper connection to some past horror and some secret society that both runs the school and may be causing the murders. Again, like in any good giallo, none of this is really explained either. We’re just given pieces of the information and asked to accept that it makes sense.

The rest of the story is spent on the various girls that Francesca is friends with being picked off by the murderer, as well as Francesca, now out of her coma, teaming with a police detective to catch the killer (SPOILER – who is drawn to look a lot like Steve Jobs. So much, in fact, that I kind of thought the character was supposed to be the real-life Steve Jobs he first appeared).

The Awakening might be an interesting story if there were more to it, and if its influences weren’t so bare, but the work is just never developed enough to let it stand on its own.

The book is full of maddening holes – why are the murders happening, why is the murderer killing, who is the group of elders behind the school, what connection do these murders have to the earlier ones? This seems like pretty crucial information in this kind of story, but Shaffer and Genovese leave it all out. (Other recent graphic novels from Oni have been about 40 pages longer than this one. With that space, the story could have been much more fully realized.)

Compounding the frustration is that anyone who has seen Suspiria (and I’d wager a lot of horror fans have – it’s considered a classic) will recognize many, many parallels between the two works.

Suspiria is about a foreign student coming to a new, ancient school. So is The Awakening.

Suspiria has a killer who goes largely unseen for most of the film. So does The Awakening.

Suspiria features a strange cabal running the school from behind the scenes. So does The Awakening.

The similarities simply make The Awakening too familiar to be frightening or surprising.

Its lack of crucial information, detailed characters, and resolved story lines ultimately make it a deeply disappointing work.

Buy The Awakening At Amazon.

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