Samantha is desperately hoping that her love Michelle is merely crazy, and note demonically possessed. Her research into Michelle’s childhood home where they now live takes her to a library, where a chance meeting almost leads to an illicit assignation. Information comes to hand that indicates something untoward is going on, and the last panel of the comic muddies the waters further – Michelle might think she’s possessed, but she might also be mad.
DEVIL WITHIN #3
Writer: Stephanie Phillips
Art: Maan House
Colors: Dee Cunniffe
Letters: Troy Peteri
Publisher: Black Mask Studios LLC
Release Date: February 13th, 2019
Previously in Devil Within: Michelle and Samantha move in together. In the gothic pile, Michelle begins to see strange reflections in mirrors, ghostly apparitions and a strange voice only she can hear. Increasingly frustrated and disbelieving, Samantha begins to investigate. Stymied at every turn, she resorts to researching Michelle’s childhood, and discovers to her horror that the house they are living in was Michelle’s childhood home, where she went through the trauma of her brother vanishing.
THE POWER OF CHRIST
Written by Stephanie Phillips, Devil Within is an entertaining comic that touches on all the classic tropes of demonic possession movies, particularly The Exorcist (go watch it; it will scare your pants off). As with that seminal movie, Devil Within #3 effectively mines the dividing line that features in these sort of stories – is the protagonist crazy, or are they in fact menaced by the demonic? As in The Exorcist, on the one hand we have the disbelieving investigator, sure of their intent, aligned against the suffering victim. Visually, it seems that Michelle is subject to demonic possession, but Philips scatters enough chaff for the reader to think maybe it’s simply mental illness.
Devil Within #3 opens with Samantha doing some research at the library, where a chance encounter with a Filipino-speaking librarian leads to open flirtation. This is probably the clumsier part of the book, as Liza’s coming on to Samantha feels a little awkward. There’s definitely a nice line in simmering intent bubbling underneath, but some of the language and imagery feels like you’re being hit over the head when a subtler approach is perhaps warranted. Happily, Phillips has no compunction in using Filipino in conversation, without resorting to translation, which gives the issue an exotic feel.
Devil Within #3 leans heavily on a demonic explanation for Michelle’s woes. There is a moody and dramatic scene in an asylum (natch) where Samantha encounters Michelle’s incarcerated mother. Cue images of crazy people screaming in corridors, instances of self-harm and a disconcerting moment where Samantha finds herself reliving Michelle’s mother’s memories at the moment her son vanished. Later, when Samantha returns home, she finds Michelle chowing down on a bird and spitting out the head, which provokes an image straight from a deleted scene from The Exorcist (those who’ve seen it won’t forget it). We wrap up the issue with a tender moment (not for the morally straitlaced) before that devastating final image.
GOOD, WITHOUT BEING GREAT
There’s a lot to like about Devil Within #3 – Maan House’s art particularly does a lot of the heavy lifting the often trope heavy writing can’t manage. The aforementioned scene lifted straight from The Exorcist particularly is gruesome and chilling, taking up most of the page for maximum impact. The use of color in the background makes the image even more striking, as does the slightly off-kilter artwork. There is also some grue for those who like it, especially the bird chomping scene and even Michelle’s mother banging her head repeatedly onto a window. Of note are three panels at the bottom of a page where Michelle’s head appears to turn and turn and turn, evoking Regan in those images from the movie I’ve mentioned too many times already. The final panel in this little section is one that should haunt any reader for some time.
Overall, though, not much happens in this episode. We’re still left with a sense that either option – possession or cuckoo land is the explanation for Michelle’s plight. This far in, we probably should be getting a greater sense of where the story is heading – if it’s possession, there’s no sense of a grand plan. If it is mental illness (it’s not, folks) then Samantha’s dilatory investigation is actually imperiling the woman she loves, who clearly needs professional help.
BOTTOM LINE – A FINE LITTLE ISSUE
The Devil Within is a fine little issue that is packed with striking imagery, a cute flirtation scene, and a holy moly page involving our couple tending to each other’s needs in the shower. So not for the kids, that’s for sure. While the investigation seems to be dragging on, there is enough here to suggest that something big is building. While not a classic of the genre, as it mines tropes instead of plowing new ground, Devil Within #3 is a fine issue in and of itself and one to keep an eye out for.