Weirdling is the perfect name for this odd but well executed sci-fi horror from Mike Dubisch. It tells the story of Anna Mandretta, a shipmate on a submarine far in the future. Mandretta, her ship and fellow crewmates all float through the dark, nightmarish oceans on a distant planet. Earth in this future is at war with the Xax, an alien species with technology and ways mankind doesn't really understand. The stress is palpable on the ship and it's obvious that everyone onboard is terrified of the inhuman aliens they are sworn to fight.
In their downtime hours Mandretta and the rest relax by smoking pot----both alcohol and tobacco are outlawed in this future, but there's cannabis aplenty---and logging plenty of hours with a lucid dreaming device that makes dreams feel as sharp are reality. It's this dreaming reality that becomes the second part of the story.
In Anna's dreams she's a doctor in Victorian England. We see her operating on a baby with tumor on its head that's slowing becoming a mouth---quite possibly the most terrifying image of the whole book. Anna is unable to save the boy, but the the boy's father doesn't seem upset or even disappointed. He apparently believes his son will come back to life and usher in a new age for an ancient god and that Anna is to play a major part in the god's return.
As the stories flip back and forth, paranoia plays a major part as both Anna and the readers question which reality is the one to believe in. The real fun begins, though, when the two stories bleed into each other. People from one reality start appearing in the other, and a good number of connections develop between the Xax in the sci-fi world and the demon-god in the Victorian world. Both stories twist into each other fairly well, with no hanging pieces left unattached to the main story.
The sci-fi elements, in general, are stronger than the Victorian-style horror, which owes a lot to Lovecraft. While I happily sit on the first pew at the church of HP Lovecraft, Dubisch doesn't bring in a lot to freshen up the old ideas. The Sci-fi sections certainly has its strong influences as well, particulary Philip K. Dick, but the story here is built up more so it feels both within in the tradition of PKD but also totally new. I suppose you could argue that since the sci-fi world is the real world in this story it should be the one that's more developed, but the tale could have worked in deeper layers if both sides were covered with equal depth.
Dubisch's artwork is a bit different from most comics of today. The backgrounds are highly detailed, while pieces in the foreground often more sketchy. The more terrifying moments often dip into psychedelia to highlight the terror. I personally love the artwork. It pulls directly out of the visual styles of the old horror zines of the 50's and 60's. Having seen the work in his new collection as well as his website, I've seen that he's capable of a broad range of styles. I have to think that it's purposeful.
Overall Dubisch delivers a well crafted comic with high appeal for fans of old-school sci-fi and horror comics. What he's created, while not entirely fresh is a blending of forms lovers of the old style of even aficionados of indie comics will love. I'm not sure, though, how much this can draw in readers more used to the big 2 of comics. But then I don't think that's who this book is for anyway.