Review by Frank Plowright
Larry Hancock and Michael Cherkas were the creative forces behind The Silent Invasion, an excellent evocation of the fears and paranoia infesting the United States chattering classes from the mid-1950s. For Suburban Nightmares second artist John Van Bruggen is added to the team as they take another look at the era, this time largely lacking the sinister background presence of aliens.
The longest story here, ‘The Science Experiment’, appears to be Cherkas’ instantly recognisable retro cartooning, but taking a more stylised approach than previously. Heads are squarer and faces more angular, but it’s a viably consistent look, the surprise being that Van Bruggen is credited with the pencilling and Cherkas only with inks. Green Valley is a planned community completed in Nevada in 1953 and showcasing the most modern approach to everything from household appliances to social relations. Why, you can even see the mushroom clouds from atomic bomb tests in the desert. There is, however, a sinister side to the community, which begins to unravel when a healthy woman dies in hospital after a fall and relatively recent arrival Sam begins to investigate the dangers of radiation.
Artistic duties switch from story to story, mostly Van Bruggen pencilling, but on occasion Cherkas, and it seems as if each is attempting to set a challenge for themselves and the other such is the sweeping ambition of approaches. A remarkable selection of styles is employed, varying from the dense and scratchy to almost Archie-like cartoon clarity. Sometimes Cherkas inks, sometimes not. These stories all explore fear, but each taking a different aspect, and all locked into the values of the 1950s, be it rabid anti-communism or unwavering faith in benign corporate culture as the future. They’re satirical, often funny, and you can be sure anyone who’s an individual has their card rapidly marked.
Anyone who’s read The Silent Invasion may feel marginally let down by the comparative lack of scope and ambition when it comes to the plots, with all three creators involved either individually or in pairs, but this is nonetheless a fine selection. Anyone picking up Suburban Nightmares with no knowledge of the creators’ previous work is likely to be pleased and entertained by a broad selection of material, which consistently hits the desired mood, often bleak. A second Suburban Nightmares collection titled Childhood Secrets followed.