Recap for Review Group Week 253! Suicide Forest #1 by El Torres and Gabriel Hernandez as selected by SilverPhoenix.
The Review Group is a collection of posters who get together and review a new comic each week. Our threads can be found in The Outhouse's News Stand forum and is open for anyone and everyone to participate.
If you haven't already checked out Torres and Hernandez's first series from IDW, The Veil, you should. I read it recently and it was good comics. What made me seek out The Veil? Suicide Forest, did of course. What did the rest of the Review Group think of it? Well, let's find out...
Review by God Man
I thought The Suicide Forest was pretty good. The story was pretty low key, but there was still a sense of foreboding and dread throughout the book. The dark, sketchy, almost impressionistic art really helped contribute to the tone.
My favorite sequence in The Suicide Forest was the juxtaposition of Alvin's hookup and the suicide of his ex girlfriend. Both scenes were sad and kinda pathetic in their own way, despite the different actions they took. Alvin's ex and the girl he was having sex with even had the same face towards the end of their respective scenes.
I also enjoyed the parallels between the two leads. Both are outsiders in their own way, Alvin being an American living in Japan, and Ryoko having a gift (presumably) others do not. Their respective stories don't intersect here, but I assume that won't be the case for long. Overall, this was a pretty interesting first issue, and it'll probably get me to read the second.
Review by Eli Katz
The only flaw in this book is that it's dialogue heavy, at points, and this slows down an otherwise very interesting and original book. The art is amazingly stylized and produces a perfectly creepy atmosphere. This book reminds me why I love comics: cool concepts brought alive by wonderful illustrations.
Review by BlueStreak
It's hard to come up with words describing this issue, but I'll try.
Suicide Forest #1 was a solid first issue that did everything that a first issue should. Beginning with a brief explanation of Aokigahara Forest, Suicide Forest made the wise choice on focusing on the characters affected by the many suicides that happen within the confines of the Aokigahara rather than on the characters who have committed suicide themselves. Blending horror and tragedy together masterfully, El Torres and Gabriel Hernandez have crafted a fine first issue of what will probably be an excellent series. Hernandez's art in particular makes the book visually beautiful, even if the subject matter is anything but.
Review by starlord
So I read it and was totally underwhelmed with the story. The art, however was mind blowingly great! I'm glad I picked this up since now I know I won't be getting it in trades. Just found the whole thing to be kind of boring. But I'm obviously in a minority here, which is good. That means it's gotta be me.
My Score: 5.50
Review by Royal Nonesuch
First of all, on a personal note, reading this comic brought back memories of the brief time I lived in Japan. It nailed the look of Tokyo, but there's also the mannerisms that I ended up adopting (peppering my sentences with Japanese words while speaking English, for example), the communication with locals, the mass transport, all of it. I kind of appreciated it for that.
I liked the parallel structure of Alan and Ryoko's stories, but would have liked to have seen more from the titular forest. Also, points of for not being able to decide on exactly how long Alan has lived in Tokyo (he alternately claims that he's been there for five years and one year...which is it?). I loved the painterly art though, and the storytelling was pretty great.
Review by Victorian Squid
Most everything has been said by now that I would insert my late review. I agree with fourthy and silver phoenix, great book.
Definitely buying the rest of this mini.
Review by Frank Einstein
I read the first couple of issues of The Veil, and while it was solid I never got around to finishing it. Now I wish I would have, this was a pretty interesting book. Very solid storytelling, and very, very dark. The story of Alan and his girlfriend would have made for a good comic in of itself, but I'm not really sure what to make of the rest. I'll be reading the rest of the series once it's collected.
Review by SilverPhoenix
Aokigahara has taken on a life that nature never intended it to have. What happens when that life begins to birth horrors that haven't been seen before?
In any language, there are very few words that jump out at you, as the word Suicide does, whenever its mentioned. In fact, if you ever want to point to a way that our understanding of human psychology has evolved, one only has to point out how this act is viewed. No longer is Suicide solely viewed as a Coward's Way Out, or a One Way Ticket to Hell in Western Society (though many still believe any combination of both), but as something that has its roots in symptoms that can be dealt with as long as both ways of the street meet with each other. Despite all of our advancements in this area, it doesn't mean that we have toned down the seriousness of the matter. In fact, one could say that our acknowledgment of it beyond the knee-jerk reactions show how serious and destructive the action can end up being. These notions especially hit home in Japan, where a region that has become synonymous with the act.
Depending on how much you know Japanese Culture, Aokigahara is a word that can range from meaning nothing, to becoming the name of one of the most morbid places in the world. Nestled at the base of Mount Fuji, Aokigahara is renowned for its geographical diversity, whose combination with its natural beauty has made it popular tourist spot. At the same time, Aokigahara cannot escape the fact that is has become a symbol for death in one way or another. In ancient times, the forest had become the central place where the very old and very young would be left to die during times of crisis, a practice known as Ubasute. In Post World War II Japan, it has not been able to escape its death filled histoy, as it has become the 2nd most popular destination in the world (behind the Golden Gate Bridge) for someone to end their life, despite the warnings littered throughout the its landscape. Its reputation has also lended itself to be the subject of literary works such "Kuroi Jukai" (Black Sea of Trees) published in 1963 & "The Complete Suicide Manual" released in 1993. "The Suicide Forest" joins those two infamous works, and becomes the first major Graphic Novel to be about this setting. How does the first chapter stand up? Very Well, despite a couple of small flaws.
"The Suicide Forest" follows two separate storylines. The first storyline involves two Park Workers who have been charged with the responsibility of keeping the corpses from littering the main tourist walkways, while the second storyline follows an American Expatriate, who has finally broken it off with his Native Girlfriend, and ends up being where the main set up for this storyline takes place. Surprisingly, this comic is not as dense text wise as one would expect, but that doesn't take away from the story, as the dialogue is extremely well written from start to finish, and whatever parts of the storyline that aren't conveyed in the text is conveyed in the art, as both components work very well to enhance the setting, especially coming together where you get the feeling that two scenes happen at the same time. A technique that I wished was used more in this medium. Ed Torres does a great job in getting his readers to stand up, take notice and care about what happens next, winning a major victory in selling this story to his readers.
When it comes to the Graphic Novel Medium, the debate about whether Story or Art is more important rages on endlessly without coming close to being resolved. However, when one gets enough experience about how comics are created, they realize that the best comic books have both of these important aspects work together to bring the best piece of work possible with this Comic Book proving that point in spades. The Art hits all the right notes as its transports you to a world where the themes are properly served by the dark backgrounds and drawings. The characters emotions and actions are masterfully conveyed as Gabriel Hernandez gives a detail to each character that gives them all uniquely individual looks, and like the writer in this book, the Artist should be given props for the 2 pivotal scenes in this book, which would not have carried the same weight without his work, giving this great package another sterling positive.
If there is anything that can be considered a strike against this first Issue, It would have to be that it felt like it ended too fast, as the book ends at point that leaves us wanting more, and can leave some people feeling shortchanged on the first read. We're also left wanting more from Ryoko, who is obviously the character who knows the most about Aokigahara, but beyond that we know very little about her motivations, and why she's may be obsessed with the legends of the Forest. Despite that significant strike, the creators do an excellent job in presenting Japan in a Manner that doesn't make it look like some crazy planet that's not on Earth, while not whitewashing the region in accomplishing this feat. Overall, The Suicide Forest #1 satisfies those who like to read their comics more than once, and keeps us more than interested to come back and see how the entire thing ends. A potentially underrated classic could be upon us.
Final Judgment: 8.5
Review by thefourthman
It still surprises me that horror stories are often some of the more interesting, literary profound and sometimes most researched stories told. I don't know why. The literary tradition itself with people like Shelly and Poe refining the genre and folks like Lovecraft revitalizing it to a popular audience should be proof of its vital role as an art. Even its most prolific and slick practitioners like Stephen King find ways to write impressive pieces.
Horror comics like film often fall into a particularly unfortunate niche. There are people that just like to see blood and mutilation and could care less about thoughtful exploration of the human condition. The success of things like the Saw films shows how pervasive this attitude is in the genre. At the end of the day, art often suffers at the hands of the almighty dollar.
The Suicide Forest is an example of that grand tradition in horror. It is lyrical in its execution, especially the sequence juxtapositioning the actions of a recently broken up couple. The parallel story of meaningless and feral sex versus the lonely suicide makes a strong statement that like all good horror will probably resonate in an empathetic reader's mind for some time to come.
But it is more than just the interesting artistic achievement of Hernandez and the ability of Torres to create a connection with characters in a land that is often viewed as vastly different from the world the typical reader of this comic is from. It is in the research and feeling of earnestness to the story.
One has to wonder how much research they did into Aokighara and why. Did they just hear the statistics of it being the second capital, for lack of a better term, of suicides behind San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge? Maybe, whatever the reasons to use it as a piece of the story, it is indicative of a great writer to include the signs that populate the forest and to create believable statistics for something that has been closed.
More telling is the treatment of ghosts in the story. In a culture, where you are listed as a part of the local Shinto temple regardless of any profession in the faith – the spirit is an integral part of folklore and belief systems and while not using kid's gloves, Torres and Hernandez fearless approach that subject, even referencing the kind of horror that has made its way east over the last few years.
The Suicide Forest is a pretty impressive debut comic and points to the grand tradition of horror instead of its more popular shallowness. It makes this reader said he slept on The Veil when it was coming out. I will be sure to check out the next issue and think any comic fan would do themselves a lot worse than to check out this issue.
Review by Greg
I absolutely loved The Veil from last year (or was it two years ago). The characters were very strong and well written and so was the horrific threat. It was a type of horror story that appealed to me and kept me excited for the next issues each month. Upon reading that we'd be reviewing Suicide Forest, a horror comic, I thought, "Sweet. This should be interesting." Then I read its the same team as The Veil and really got excited!
Already in the first issue we're presented with strong characters and alhough we can see where the story may be going, there's still a general ambiguity touched upon. A lot of the characters are being moved around and it'll be interesting to see when they start to connect and just when the true horror starts to go down. Not to say nothing quite happened here. A lot of setup with a lot of good promise. The creative team does a good job at building upon a creepy atmosphere along with the characterization. I have to say I'm quite curious and afraid at just what we'll be going through as we read these characters.
Already, I can sort of sense that I may be more into this than the Veil.
Review by Punchy
Story - Aokigihara Forest is one of those weird phenomenons which has inspired quite a few creators, I first came across the 'Suicide Forest' in Mark Waid's underrated Boom! Studios book 'The Unknown', and it really freaks me out. This comic only added to that! Thanks Silver Phoenix, no sleep for me tonight!
Aokigihara is a forest on the outskirts of Tokyo, where loads and loads of people go to commit suicide, and nobody really knows why. It's really weird, and is the perfect setting for a horror story.
At first it was weird to see a Western, non-Manga comic set in Japan, I almost tried to read it backwards! No, not really, I'm not a retard, but still, Japan is a very interesting country, so it's surprising so few American-format comics have gone there (apart from when Wolverine goes there to fuck up some ninjas). Wisely, Torres casts his main character as a westerner too, so the audience are Gaijin, and so is their protagonist. It's a shame that Alan is a bit of a dick, but then again, it looks like he'll be getting his comeuppance soon enough, so we have to see why he deserves to be haunted the fuck out of by his dead girlfriend.
The other main character is Ryoko, a park-keeper for the Suicide Forest, who has a weird connection to the forest, and like, magical powers. I find it weird that Torres went straight for the mystical explanation in #1, when maybe some more ambiguity could have been left, but hey, this is one of the few actually unsettling and creepy horror comics I've read, so he knows better than me.
Overall, Suicide Forest is a great comic, it may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it's a strong horror tale, and it feels like the writer really knows his onions about Japan and Japanese culture, if you like stuff like The Ring and The Grudge, this could be up your street, let's just hope we don't get a crappy Hollywood remake!
Art - Don't let the kind of crappy cover fool you, Gabriel Hernandez's art here is excellent, very creepy, and it adds to the sense of unease you feel, even before the horror kicks off. Reminiscent of a bit of Templesmith, and a bit of Sienkewicz, it probably wouldn't work on many other titles, but for this one? Yeah, excellent.
Best Line - 'Now you know that all those old tales are true'
That gives Suicide Forest #1 a group score of 8.16. The RG doesn't have a seal of approval, but if it did that score would earn it. The trade for Suicide Forest is solicited in the current previews, now's the time to tell your LCS you want it!
For what McKegan calls "all the geeky, bitchy arguing about comics you'd expect from a comic message board condensed into absolute awesomeness", check out our Suicide Forest thread and post your own review in The News Stand forum.
Written or Contributed by: John Martin