Mephisto and the Empty Box

Writing and Layouts by Jason Hall
Art and Additional Layouts by Matthew Kindt

Review By Mike Solko

Hall and Kindt have been getting a lot of good buzz around the Internet lately for their series Pistolwhip. Recently a side-project called Mephisto and the Empty Box was offered by this team as a sampler for their work at an affordable price of $3.95. The buzz coupled with a self-contained story was enough to entice me into giving this series a look.

The first thing that struck me about the book is the excellent production value. The book is more of a magazine sized format which lends itself to getting it on bookshelves where it certainly belongs. A beautiful painted cover evokes classic film noir, while also emphasizing the haunted feeling of John, the lead character. This book is an excellent of what comics should be before you even open the cover.

It is difficult to discuss the plot without giving away major points of the story. Newlyweds John and Carolyn attend a show featuring a magician with the stage name Mephisto and a large magic box that he utilizes for his tricks. The box, adorned with a devil-like facial mask, resembles a coffin and could easily be considered the antagonist of this story. During the magic show something goes severely wrong and John finds himself inheriting the role of Mephisto and the curse of the magic box.

This story is the stuff that old Twillight Zone episodes are made of, yet that's not to say that it has no personality of its own. Jason Hall has written a tale that is absolutely haunting and sticks with you for days after reading it. John's anguish is conveyed excellently, varying between hopeless obsession and mournful loss. Hall's dialogue is dead on, yet he also knows when to let the artwork tell the story.

Kindt's art is a much "cartoonier" (as much as I dread to use the word) style than most mainstream comic readers will be accustomed to, but his use of facial expressions and nuances is better than the majority of artists working for the major companies. There are several sequences in this story where no dialogue is used for pages, yet Kindt's art has to go beyond depicting action, also depecting emotion. Many of these silent pages stand out as the strongest in the issue as they do the best job of displaying John's pain.

For $3.95 this book is really a steal. A self-contained story with a great build-up, a great ending, excellent artwork, and all for only a dollar more than you might spend on the latest issue of a monthly title you are only buying out of inertia anyway. Plus, this book is that it's perfect to hand to the friend who has no interest in superhero comics. There is a five page preview at the Pistolwhip website (listed above) that you should give a glance. If you are even vaguely interested it's a $4 gamble that is well worth your money.

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Copyright 2001 Mike Solko