Remember when your parents used to read you bedtime stories to get your obnoxious ass to bed when you were a kid? Neither do I. But I can confidently say that Bedtime Games #1 from Dark Horse Comics is unlike any of those stories…
…Written by Nick Keller (Death Head), Bedtime Games #1 tells the story of three troubled teens who break into a tunnel near their school where a kid went missing a couple decades ago. There, they attract the attention of a villainous spirit named Mr. Bedtime. Let the games begin! (Sorry, couldn’t help it).
Having read Keller’s Death Head, its no surprise to me that the writing here is superb. Keller has a knack for taking B-horror concepts, whether they be slashers or, in this case, a ghost story, and turning them into engaging, emotional coming of age tales that hit the reader hard and don’t allow them much room to catch their breath. Much of this first issue revolves around Avery, Owen and Jamie admitting their own personal secrets and fears, either to each other or themselves. We explore their horribly dark past and present circumstances, all of which are an exaggerated version of what most of us go through growing up, whether it be Avery’s abuse from her Aunt, or Owen’s dealings with a dying family member. Hopefully, none of us have had to deal with those types of things to the extremes presented by Keller, but we’ve all dealt with shades of those types of horrors, which makes all three of the characters instantly relatable.
This is the genius of Keller. Relatability. Just look at slasher films, for instance. Many of them fail, despite a cool killer or fun deaths. Why? The characters might as well be walking, talking hunks of meat that no one, not even their owns friends, cares about. But Keller wants you to really feel something for these people before the real terror begins, which is what’s so frightening about Bedtime Games #1…each of their personal lives is already so terrible. I can only imagine what Mr. Bedtime has planned for them. My money is on the idea that there will NOT be a happy ending, but I’m not the most optimistic person in the world, which I’d have to be to think that these kid’s lives are suddenly going to get much better.
The art by Conor Nolan (Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Giants) does a great job encapsulating what is in one moment a tranquil suburban town, and in another a gut-wrenching image of horror. Seemingly inspired by George Romero’s Creepshow, Nolan’s art is the perfect counterpart to Keller’s writing. His images are stylish yet visceral to such a degree that you want to oooh and ahhh over the grotesque visuals…and then cry for our main character’s and the things they have seen. What Avery herself has witnessed are things none of us ever want burned into our mind’s eye, and once Nolan shows them to us on the page, it’s easy to understand why life for her has become, in many ways, meaningless. As I hinted before, despite the innocent title, this is a heartbreaking story about the cruelty of life and fate, and the demons that try to tear down our hopes and dreams.
As for the “demon”, Mr. Bedtime is certainly one sadistic son of a bitch. He sort of looks like a combination between The Mummy and Frankenstein, with a hint of Freddy Krueger’s gleefully vicious personality. If he ever walked into my room in the middle of night, I’d scream like a six year old girl watching a puppy becom the meat in a highway traffic sandwich. However, I would say his image is a little off, since he looks like he stole his clothes from a 1950’s detective, a cheap one, which honestly doesn’t seem to fit very well with, er, whatever he is. At the very least, the outfit detracts a little bit from his overall creep factor. It’s no green and red striped sweater, after all.
For what it is, I greatly enjoyed Bedtime Games #1. The story bounces around a lot, and I’m still not sure what Mr. Bedtime has to do with a book lost underwater near the tunnel called Bedtime Games (though I’m sure we’ll find out), but I was surprised by just how personal and emotional this story is. Nolan’s art is fun and gory, and Avery, Owen and Jamie are all complex characters that I want to get to know better. My only worry is that, with only three issues left, its hard to imagine how Keller is going to wrap up a story with still so many questions unanswered.
Look for my return to Bedtime Games after #4 releases, where I’ll give my full take on the series. Until then, sleep tight, and don’t let Mr. Bedtime bite, kiddies.
By Matt Konopka