Poor Brian Cohn. The father-to-be has just stumbled across a dark family secret which leads him down a twisted path, one that seems hell-bent on growing evermore dark as Brian, a man suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, descends helplessly into madness.
Joshua Hale Fialkov has crafted a suspense-filled piece that feels inspired by the best of Alfred Hitchcock with disturbingly macabre imagery by Rahsan Ekedel that will linger and linger in your memories. As dark as the book gets, which is plenty dark, “Echoes” fails to drown in misery thanks to its compelling mystery and the three-dimensional protagonist at the story’s center.
Brian Cohn visits his dying father at the hospital. While it isn’t clear what Martin Cohn did that prevented him from being awarded “Father of the Year”, we see that Brian’s relationship with the man was painful in a striking opening montage chronicling random moments from Brian’s life. Martin lies in his deathbed, suffering from Alzheimer’s and rarely coherent in the brief moments in which he is awake. But it’s in one of those moments where the half lucid patriarch of the Cohn family turns Brian’s world on its head.
A crime. No, make that crimes. Dead bodies. An address. Staring blankly into nothingness, before Martin Cohn passes away, he confesses to something seemingly nasty, but he leaves a vague idea of what he has done. Brian decides to investigate by driving to the abandoned property, searching for the crawlspace where his father told him the bodies were hidden. Torn between taking his medication and continuing his search, Brian makes a discovery. An awful one. So begins Fialkov’s modest psychological thriller “Echoes”, a book rife with enough twists that explaining too much more of the plot would spoil this gripping mystery.
The major strength of “Echoes” lies in Fialkov’s characterization of Brian, a man simultaneously struggling with an unimaginable secret and his own sanity. It’s the voice that Fialkov gives the character that keeps you enthusiastically turning the pages, curious of how his plight will be resolved. Fialkov brings you into the middle of Brian’s struggles with his psychoses, something that becomes increasingly difficult for him to hold onto as the story breezes along into darkness.
In an early scene between Brian and his wife Nicole, Brian’s angrily clarifies his disdain for being on a first name basis with his psychiatrist:
Nicole: Tony said that the sooner you get back on a schedule—
Brian: Dr. Friez! I fucking hate that “Call me Tony” shit. The man’s supposed to be my doctor, not our friend. Not my friend.
This brief bit of dialogue is telling because it shows how much Brian wants to be in control of something in his life. He is not about to cave to the pretense that his psychiatrist is one of his buddies, and it bothers him that his wife is willing to do so. Fialkov has a flair for conversational dialogue that reads like authentic, natural exchanges between real people.
Artist Rahsan Ekedel has an ability to illustrate haunting imagery. Just try to erase the image of Martin Cohn’s vile collection of smiling dolls from your memory. Or the rotting spirits that pursue Brian when he fails to take his meds on schedule. However there is tremendous soul to Ekedel’s character work as well, which compliments the three-dimensionality Fialkov has imbued into his small cast.
Ekedel has taken great care to color “Echoes” in varying gray hues. The artist has meticulously shaded his artwork which benefits significantly from the depth. Some black and white books feel like they are begging to be filled in with color, but Ekedel has employed a water-color like technique to enliven the panels. Another subtle feature was the way the white space between the panels continues to grow darker and darker as we move through the story’s first chapter. By the time the story finishes most of the panels are surrounded by negative space.
With any mystery, a character may be required to do something or be somewhere to advance the plot in a way that might seem like too convenient a coincidence once the story wraps up. It happens once in “Echoes” and you can either choose to be bothered by it or brush it off as you bellow “You got me Fialkov!” While “Echoes” is a thoroughly enjoyable yarn, the scene in question still has me wondering how it might have been developed differently so as to allow the story to reach the same conclusion.
The “Echoes” hardcover, which has the dimensions of something between a pocket-sized edition and a standard collected edition, also comes with the kind of supplemental material more books of this quality ought to possess. Fialkov’s entire script to the first issue is reprinted with Ekedel’s pencils. Fialkov offers a page-by-page commentary that is an invaluable resource for any budding writer. He offers his views on using dialogue to develop the scares in a horror comic, the research necessary to create a scene that rings true, and the groundbreaking use of an iPhone as a flashlight in a comic book. Even if you’re interest in the creation of comic books is mild, you’ll find Fialkov’s commentary an interesting and humorous read.
Fialkov and Ekedel have accomplished something special with “Echoes”. It sets itself apart from other books in the horror genre because it is as dramatic and touching a piece as it is a work of disturbing horror. Just remember, once you’ve seen the unsettling imagery dreamed up by the two creators, it will stick with you.
Written by: Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art: Rahsan Ekedel
Letters: Troy Peteri
Publisher: Image Comics
Original Publication Date: September 6, 2011