Worst Horror Games #5 – Silent Hill Homecoming

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★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Survival Horror / Action
Platform: Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Publisher: Konami
Published: 2008

Summary – Silent Hill Homecoming follows Alex Shepherd, a soldier who returns to his hometown of Shepherd’s Glen to discover his little brother has gone missing. Following a sinister link between his family and a religious cult, Alex goes to the town of Silent Hill to look for him.

Overall Thoughts
“In here is a tragedy. Art thou player, or audience?”

Truth be told, maybe it isn’t fair to put this game on the “Worst” list at all. I think Homecoming gets picked on a little too much. The circumstances behind this game are incredibly unlucky and fraught with poor and dubious decisions. A lot of its issues can be traced back, surprise surprise, to the publisher, Konami. A European development team was thrown the task of this title with little experience with the series and an unrealistic deadline, so it honestly surprises me that anything good was able to be eked out of the project at all. I won’t be too hard on it, but I will say that when compared with most other Silent Hill entries, this one leaves quite a lot to be desired. It’s essentially a watered-down Silent Hill 2 with more out-of-place fighting sequences.

There are good ideas present, including the melancholy soundtrack by Akira Yamaoka, and I think if you prefer action horror and enjoyed the Silent Hill film, you probably wouldn’t hate it. I don’t dislike it, but it is objectively bad. The controls and gameplay when you’re not exploring are pretty awful, and the weird focus on combat in a series that’s… never been known for that… erases the impact of much of the otherwise creepy and often rather pretty imagery in this game. I can understand why there are ardent fans of this game because it can be beautiful, visually disturbing and macabre, but there is no real threat or depth to back it up.

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Alex Shepherd and his dysfunctional family had a lot of potential, and some parts of the story are cool, but it doesn’t jibe with the established story of the series, and the psychological aspect could have been handled so much better. They basically drill into your head that Alex was “in the army”, when in reality… (spoiler) no, he never was. It’s kind of obvious. He’s just insane, I guess.

The characters are passable, for the most part. I love the designs of the monsters, but none of the human characters besides the protagonist stood out to me, and that’s the true shame. Silent Hill was never about the monsters of dreams, but the monsters within human nature. This is a common misunderstanding when people try to adapt the series, and I’ve never gotten it. How do you miss the point so much?
That’s basically all I have to say about it. If the developers had been given an inkling of time to develop Homecoming properly, it could’ve been fantastic, but as is, it’s just okay.

Would It Make a Good Novel?
Maybe. There’s a lot of unexplored potential that could be toyed around with to make a decent book, if you were a skilled enough writer.

Final Rubric
Story and Characters – 3
Art and Design – 4
Gameplay and Entertainment Factor – 2
Fear Factor – 3
Music and Sound – 4
General Score – 3.5 out of 5

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Thoughts on the Silent Hill Films

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A recent debate, and by debate, I mean whiny, circular argument, when it comes to movies is the issue of swapping an established character’s gender without any real reason to. Is it ever a good idea? Well, in short, no. Except for the rare case where the character has no set gender – this sometimes happens in video games where the characters are androgynous or animals – it is never a good idea. Why? Because it’s almost always a lazy, cynical attempt to be “feminist”. Case in point, the first Silent Hill film.

I actually feel confident recommending the first Silent Hill movie to people. In my opinion, it’s the only good movie based off of a video game, and in its own right is a stylish, well-made horror movie. However, it takes some egregious liberties with the source material that make parts of frustrating if you’re familiar with the series. Probably the most obvious is swapping the protagonist Harry Mason’s gender, turning him into the female lead, Rose DaSilva.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think the actress does a really good job. I have no issue with her or even the character. What I do take issue with is the reason for the change, which is pretty damn offensive. Why they changed Harry to Rose is that they didn’t think a father would go to such odds to save his adopted daughter, that her mother would be more likely to. Like, that is seriously their reasoning. Just… why!? Have they never met human beings? Did they not learn anything from this series at all? The whole point of Silent Hill, when it’s boiled down, was the insane limits Harry would go to to get his daughter back.

The first Silent Hill already had an almost all-female cast, with the exceptions of Harry and Dr. Kaufmann, who wasn’t included in the film. If they wanted to make a film with a strong female lead, there was already three to choose from in Cybil, Lisa, or even Alessa Gillespie, though she’s more of an anti-villain. They tried to shove in Rose DaSilva, and another Harry Mason-esque character in her husband, rather than just have Harry be the main character. Oh, and they also added this weird witch-burning woman named Christabella as one of the main antagonists. That character wasn’t a terrible add-in, but nonetheless gives me traumatic flashbacks to the Silent Hill comics.

Rant aside, it’s still one of my favourite adaptations. True, I think they probably could have done a more accurate adaptation, and if this were to be remade as a mini-series (hint, hint, any filmmakers reading this) I wouldn’t mind, but it’s clear that so much talent and love went into making this movie. The special effects are phenomenal, over a decade later, and a lot was actually hand-crafted. If you have the time, there’s a 30-minute documentary on the making of this film that you should watch. It’s on most of the DVD versions, probably on YouTube too. It is probably better to view the first film as an homage rather than a straight-up adaptation, because it does glomp together themes from other parts of the series, not that that’s a bad thing. Continue reading “Thoughts on the Silent Hill Films”

The Books of the Series (SH Special)

I mis-scheduled the Haunt Me to Sleep preview for a bad time. If you missed it, because I’m pretty sure almost everyone missed it, and want to read it, it’s here in Issue #17. I’ll put the original post back up on Sunday.

So, I’ve been talking about the Silent Hill series for a few days, though I suppose it’s been more like rambling on. I’d planned all this for Halloween, originally, but I already had a slightly better mini-series written out for then. As you probably know, the popular psychological horror series is largely based on books. I actually found one of my all-time favourite authors through Silent Hill, believe that or not. Well, technically it was through one of the creators’ commentaries on the making-of, but still.
Here are the best books I’ve found through this series’ recommendation, intentional or unintentional. They are in no particular order.

Carrie by Stephen King
Genre: Horror / Paranormal
This is considered a horror classic, but truthfully it wasn’t even on my radar until I found out the villains of the first Silent Hill were based off of Carrie and her abusive mother. I didn’t, at the time, really want to read about some poor, socially inept girl getting relentlessly abused and having pig’s blood dumped on her, even if she does take revenge. The idea just kind of made me uncomfortable, but I didn’t regret reading it when I did. It’s King’s first novel, so it has some rough edges, but overall it’s a pretty good book. What makes Carrie so ground-breaking is its sense of sympathy, and a well-written, not conventionally pretty, relatable protagonist at a time when women in horror novels were largely supermodel murder victims. Still an issue that pervades the genre to this day, despite horror arguably being one of the more progressive genres. Continue reading “The Books of the Series (SH Special)”

Thoughts on the Western Silent Hills

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This will be a lot briefer than yesterday’s post on the series, as to tell you the truth, I just don’t have as many personal feelings about the American and European Silent Hill series. Are they as good as the originals? Well… yes, and no. They’re all fun, and for the most part pretty, but if I had to complain about anything, they don’t take nearly enough inspiration from their parent series. The Western Silent Hills seem significantly more “video game-ish”, if that makes sense. The only one that is somewhat immersive is Shattered Memories, and ironically, it’s probably the biggest departure from the norm. Years later, people are still complaining about how these games are “too different” from the quartet, and I don’t think that’s fair. Considering how much the publisher loved to abuse this series, we’re really lucky that we got these at all. They’re not perfect, but they aren’t terrible, either. They’re like reading a well-written, plausible fanfiction.

Thoughts on Silent Hill 0rigins
If you’re in these for the literarary aspect, a large part of 0rigins is based off of Shakespeare plays, which is incredibly cool. This was supposed to be a prequel to the first one, but um… it doesn’t quite jibe, story-wise. Several aspects don’t quite make sense, and it’s interesting to watch someone try to tie it and the first one together, because they always get confused before they manage to. I love the design of this game (and the fact that the protagonist can, for whatever reason, carry twenty portable televisions in his pocket – which, true story, he can beat the god of death up with), and the shout-outs to its predecessors. However, despite the creators obviously being bibliophiles, it egregiously lacks the “interactive novel” kind of feeling that’s important to the series.
For some reason, physical copies of this game tend to be pretty expensive, or at least they were. So, probably better to research it in detail to make sure you’d want to buy it first, if the series interests you.

Thoughts on Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
Shattered Memories is incredible. I don’t care who says otherwise, it’s good. SH:SM reminds me so much of those “choose-your-own-adventure” books that were popular in like the 90s and early 00s, but surprisingly emotionally powerful. Unlike well, the entire rest of the series, SH:SM has no action element, it’s namely exploration and story. Is that for the better? In this case, probably. The action parts in 0rigins were cartoonish and difficult, so maybe it’s better that they left them out. I keep comparing them to novels, but this one seriously is novel-like, about the closest you could get and still keep a fully interactive element intact.

Thoughts on Homecoming and Downpour
I feel like these two get a bad rap, and are generally considered the two worst of the series. Homecoming is objectively bad, and spoiler alert, made my Harvest of Horror list for the worst horror games, but I can see where someone would love it, too. The characters are interesting enough, and oh man, the horror designs are beautiful. The main thing I would say about Homecoming is that it under-utilizes or overdoes everything – there is no good medium anywhere in it, which is tragic, because if the developers had been given more time to perfect it, it could’ve been so awesome with what it has to work with. It’s very similar, thematically, to the Silent Hill film, and I don’t think that was a bad decision in itself, because that movie’s absolutely gorgeous.

Downpour is actually good to me. I love Downpour. It suffers from, again, the developers not being given nearly enough time to clean it up. If they just could’ve touched it up, Downpour would have been one of the best, but as it is, it’s still far from the worst. It returns to similar literary influences – Hansel & Gretel, classic American horror novels, and so on. I wouldn’t call it scary, for sure, but I think it’s a worthwhile experience. Something of a shame that nothing has come of the series since, though.

Thoughts on the Silent Hill Quartet

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The first four entries in the Silent Hill series, which I usually call the “quartet” for convenience, were developed from 1999 to 2004 by Team Silent, a bunch of incredibly talented literature and American horror movie fanatics who were essentially given free reign to develop a horror series for the PlayStation. I think the publisher and everyone else expected what they made to be a rip-off of Resident Evil, but fortunately for us all, they ended up making this fantastically beautiful quartet of lore-rich, tragic and terrifying games. Unfortunately, Team Silent was split up by Konami shortly after the fourth one came out – the first of many extremely questionable choices made by the publisher. I won’t get into that, you can probably look that up if you want to see the whole laundry list. It’s a shame to think what could have been had the team had been allowed to continue their own series, but we’ll always have the quartet.

The series was shipped off to several different developers afterwards. Whether this was for better or for worse is highly subjective, as every single Silent Hill entry, including even the books and movies, has an atmosphere that is entirely unique to that piece. The first one, for example, feels almost nothing like the second one, but they do have in common that surreal, interactive-novel vibe that is the series’ signature. Silent Hill is, in my opinion, an underappreciated influence on the psychological horror as a whole.

I owe this series my will to start writing. I mean, I’ve always wanted to write, but the Silent Hill quartet invigorated me to actually go through with it. I recommend the living heck out of it for writers and would-be writers.
Hold on a minute. You’re like, Emm, I don’t even like video games. That’s fine, I understand that. I’m not the biggest expert on them myself, but if you want to go into horror, especially ambient or psychological horror, you owe it to yourself to at least research it. The price on actual copies tends to go up and down, seemingly at random, but like I said yesterday, you can always use YouTube or the Wiki. (Or a reproduction game. Not as good as the real thing, but we take what we can get, yeah?)

Anyway, I’m probably never going to do a full-out review of any of these, as it would take video equipment I don’t have and likely weeks of effort to do them justice in a review. These are just some loose thoughts I had on each entry. Tomorrow I’ll cover the Western-made ones, which are certainly their own animal. If you’ve played any of these, let me know what you think!

Thoughts On the First Silent Hill
It will never cease to surprise me that this series ever became mainstream in America. There’s so much occultism, and even though the first Silent Hill has a far less realistic tone than the later ones, still has some pretty frank depictions of religious abuse. Not to mention, the main antagonistic force who underlines the entire series is a demonic god of blood and suffering. That’s damn dark for a major video game made in the 90s. I wouldn’t call the series as a whole extremely “violent”. It can be violent, if you choose, which gives it an ongoing theme of moral choice, but as a default, it’s not.
The first Silent Hill is admittedly, an acquired taste. It’s more action-based than exploration, and therefore slightly less to my personal preferences, and the story can be confusing. The protagonist, Harry Mason, can be a bit of a tactless doofus, too. (I made a comic about that, in fact.) The monster and character designs are really good, especially for the time, but I find myself coming back to it the least. You could say its predecessors did all of the horror tropes it introduced better – distortion of reality, human and inhuman evil, so on. Fun fact, that the Gillespie family, the main (human) villains, are based off of Carrie and her mother from Stephen King’s Carrie.
Continue reading “Thoughts on the Silent Hill Quartet”

The Silence of the Hills – Pre-Halloween Special

Happy Pre-Harvest of Horror! Not that that’s going to become a thing. We are rolling into Halloween, which I was going to save this for, but decided to post it a bit early, just because I wanted to. And also, my Halloween schedule is clogged, and I won’t have time to post it then.
Silent Hill is a psychological horror franchise that began in the medium of video games with Silent Hill for the PlayStation in 1999, which was rather unorthodox for its genre and methods of storytelling at the time. It has since branched out to two feature films, multiple albums worth of music and a smattering of novels, comics and artworks. Silent Hill is acknowledged as one of the forerunners of the survival horror genre, along with its different-yet-alike sister series, Resident Evil and Clock Tower.

Though it continues to have an active fanbase, and recently was cited as one of the inspirations behind the popular Netflix show, Stranger Things, sadly, as of writing this, Silent Hill itself is no longer being developed. After several… dubious decisions made by the publisher, Konami, the latest entry in the series was canceled and it was shelved indefinitely for future projects.

While the series itself is largely based on literature, it’s had its own unique, powerful effect on the psychological horror genre as a whole. Silent Hill was one of the first video game series to break into the mainstream that used the supposed “limitations” of the medium to tell realistically dark, atmospheric and emotionally complex horror stories, the likes of which had never really been seen that often in video games beforehand, outside of maybe certain RPGs, making Silent Hill more like a fully interactive novel or art piece.

If you’ve been following my little blog for awhile, you’ll know how much I love, love, love this series, even the parts that are flawed. It’s the perfect video game for a bibliophile, as well. This series has introduced me to not only one of my favourite authors, but a multitude of excellent stand-alone novels that I likely wouldn’t have had an interest in or even heard of otherwise. More importantly, it’s one of the key factors that inspired me to become a writer.
For this not quite Halloween special, I’ll be doing a rundown of almost every piece of the series – the original quartet, the Western video games, the books, the movies – pretty much the whole shebang. Mostly, I wanted to share what I love about it, but you might discover something awesome from this, too.

Obviously, I recommend the Silent Hill video games, even if you don’t care for video games. Like, I mean this. If you like this kind of horror at all, you’re doing yourself a grand disfavor by avoiding them because of them being games. If you don’t like the thought of hunting them down solely on my recommendation, there’s always the Wiki and YouTube to get some of the experience. None of the series is “rare”, per se, but some pieces can be difficult to track down physical copies of, namely Origins, the first one, and for some reason, the graphic novels, but we’ll get to that, and why those might be somewhat more rare. Here is the upcoming schedule for what I’ll be talking about or reviewing! It’s in no particular order, just like the plot!

It should be noted that I won’t be covering either Book of Memories, the Play Novel, that HD Collection that supposedly sucked, or the Japanese novels, because I have no experience with any of them, and therefore nothing to talk about.

Sept. 23 – Thoughts on the Silent Hill Quartet
Sept. 24 – Thoughts on the Western Silent Hills
Sept. 25 – The Books Behind the Series
Sept. 26 – Thoughts on the Films
(*Edit* – The comics reviews have been moved to a later date, due to time.)
Sept. 28 – The Silent Hill Comics, Pt. 1 (Reviews Revisited)
Sept. 29 – The Silent Hill Comics, Pt. 2 (Reviews Revisited)

Silent Hill 20th Anniversary – An Overview

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Harry Mason has been looking for his daughter at the mercy of someone else’s demons for twenty solid years today. This was foretold by gyromancy!
Being my favourite disturbing influence, I had to do a mini-special for Silent Hill‘s landmark birthday on the good parts, the bad parts, the books that it brought me to and influence on my own work. Which is more than Konami will do for their own series today, I promise you that.

I know it’s a series that ended rather unceremoniously some time ago, but its impact makes it the only one I will draw something specifically for for its anniversary.
What’s scarier, Silent Hill or the fact that 1999 was twenty years ago? Yeah, pretty much nobody born in the 90’s is in school anymore. That’s… bamboozling for some reason, and I didn’t really get to experience the 90’s save for the tail-end.

Anyway. I don’t want to go into a boring essay – there have been dissections upon discussions upon dissertations on the series and its symbolism for years. The series is old enough to buy cigarettes on its own now, so there ought to be by this point! So don’t worry, this won’t be that. Just an almost-short dedication to a really phenomenal series with a handful of recommendations.

The Books
Silent Hill is based heavily around literature, both English and Japanese, as well as a couple of darker films like Jacob’s Ladder. There are numerous references to Shakespeare, Stephen King, and contemporary writers like Richard Matheson and Andrew Vachss. One creepy creature that stands out from the series is based off of Caliban from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, a man who is half-human and half-beast.

SH brought me to the discovery of my current favourite author a couple of years ago when I got into the series. The entire insane plotline of the fourth SH, which revolves around a serial killer obsessed with his mother and a hermit who finds himself in the killer’s mind, is based on the novel Coin Locker Babies by Ryu Murakami.

The similarities aren’t… incredibly apparent, other than both are based around two men who are close through isolation but end up taking opposing paths, though both paths lead to bad places.
In the novel, they are brothers who have an obsessive hatred for their mothers who abandoned them to die at birth – one becomes a criminal and murderer while the other loses his mind after feeling alone all of his life, even after he becomes a famous musician. In the game, they are a man abused as a child by a religious cult who becomes a fanatic and murderer, and a recluse who may be beginning to lose his mind being trapped in isolation for so long with this murderer.
I recommend the living crap out of the novel, and the game too if it’s your thing. Continue reading “Silent Hill 20th Anniversary – An Overview”

Top 10 Songs from Silent Hill

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I don’t normally do music posts and don’t plan to start writing them regularly, but this is a rare occasion. On the threshold of the 20th birthday of my favourite series, which is tomorrow, I was surprisingly befuddled on what to analyse and dissect and ramble on about.

Silent Hill, for the uninitiated, is a psychological horror video game series that behaves strangely like artsy cinematic novels, and centers around a tourist town with a bad history. The town harbors a demonic entity that calls broken and vulnerable people to it and creates a delusional world out of the fears it senses in them. It was THE psychological horror series and still holds that place today, despite being indefinitely killed off by its own publishers. There are novels, comics and two films based off of it. I don’t recommend most of those, save for the 2006 film, which is how I discovered the series in the first place, and some of the later comics such as Past Life.

I decided that I should start with a short piece on a part of the Silent Hill series I could recommend to anybody and would be fun to talk about, regardless of the interest they might have in the series itself – the music. If you absolutely hate, hate, hate horror, it would still be unlikely that you’d dislike these soundtracks entirely.

Akira Yamaoka’s compositions for Silent Hill are legendary. They are pretty much the god of soundtracks, and other soundtracks have to earn their blessings before they’re even allowed to exist.
I exaggerate… but not by that much. These are innovative, multi-genre albums that make creative use of more traditional alt-rock, electronica and metal, ambient noise, discordant industrial sounds and even classical music to breed a new genre that’s unique to Silent Hill.
Despite there being some truly disturbing songs, like the infamous “Prayer” from the third game, which sounds like an actual replication of Hell, more often the soundtracks are introspective and mellow rather than scary. “Prayer” itself is quite beautiful in its own demonic way, and I’d love to know how something like it was even made.

I’ve boiled my personal favourites down to ten. Shaving them to this tiny number was no small feat, as including cut material and remixes, the first four entries in the series alone amass 300+ tracks of music with a plethora of different moods within those. Silent Hill‘s vocal themes with Mary Elizabeth McGlynn are pretty popular, but this list is solely for Yamaoka’s instrumentals. They’re really a monster of their own.

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This list is in no particular order, and I’ve given the YouTube link to ones I especially like so you can give them a listen. You can find most of the soundtracks, save the fan-made OSTs of cut and salvaged material, on other music sites as well. There are much, much more than just these. If you’re already familiar with SH, feel free to leave your own faves in a comment!

10 – “Theme of Laura” and “Theme of Laura (Reprise)” from Silent Hill 2
“Theme of Laura” is the series’ theme song by this point. I guarantee if you’re into soundtrack music or have browsed for ‘relaxing’ instrumentals, you have run into the reprise at some point. I guarantee it. Continue reading “Top 10 Songs from Silent Hill”

Book Review – Silent Hill Comics (Part II) by Tom Waltz

★★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Horror / Paranormal
Demographic: Older Teen / Adult
Publication Date: October 20th, 2015
Publisher: IDW Publishing

I am a pretty hardcore Silent Hill fanatic. So much that it tires others, in fact.
To me, the series is an interactive artwork combined with the nuance of a novel’s characterization. Sure, it’s got quirks and bad entries on its belt but I don’t care. I genuinely don’t understand how you could enjoy horror or surrealism and not love something about Silent Hill.

As I said in my review of Omnibus I, the early comics are a terrible place to begin the series but I’m also hesitant to recommend them to fans because they barely share a canon and make some rather… interesting alterations…
Omnibus II is a squillion times better than I, on the other hand, so I’m comfortable recommending these to anyone. These are fantastic and do the series justice. A little odd storywise, but the dialogue is good and the art is godlike in places. (Or devil-like? Whichever you prefer…) The physical books of the omnibuses do not match, which is irritating but minor.

A quick rundown and my thoughts on each:

Continue reading “Book Review – Silent Hill Comics (Part II) by Tom Waltz”

Book Review – Silent Hill Comics (Part I) by Scott Ciencin

★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Horror / Paranormal
Demographic: Older Teen / Adult
Publication Date: October 14th, 2008
Publisher: IDW Publishing

Silent Hill is one of my eternal favourite video game series. The original quartet in my opinion is something of a “heaven experience” – beautiful but tense. It is the closest I feel we’ve come to an interactive nightmare that anyone could have right in their living room. The fact that everyone interprets the quartet so differently and yet tends to love it dearly the same can attest to that. It’s strangely personal for a lot of people, something a video game doesn’t typically manage. Why is this, do you think?

Silent Hill is entertaining first and foremost, but it was also an (underappreciated) innovator in serious, mature themes for the medium and dealt heavily with religious abuse, depression, childhood trauma and suicide with a thin coat of surreal horror. Plus the format gives a sense of venturing into someone else’s inner, secret dreams and decoding them. It catches people off-guard, in the best way.

If you’re familiar with Silent Hill already, then you’re aware there can be a lot of… iffiness with its spin-offs. At best, you get something rare and amazing like Shattered Memories, and at worst you get an endless stream of pachinko machines coming out your ears.

The comics are a mixed bag but far from unholy. The second omnibus is loads better, but the first omnibus does have consistently good art and a few interesting stories.
If you are not familiar with it and thinking the comics would be a place to begin Silent Hill‘s story, that may not be a good idea. Unless you just love horror comics for what they are and want to try them out for that reason, the original quartet or the first film would be worlds better. Shattered Memories or Origins wouldn’t be bad either.

You can in fact go into the first omnibus not knowing anything about the series at all and it won’t make much difference. I promise. Omnibus II has somewhat to do with the series’ canon, but these comics included in I eschew it.

My general consensus with Omnibus I is that it’s frustrating but readable. They totally ignored everything established by the series. Despite having full rights to do whatever they wanted!
However… the art is impressionistic and often pretty, and if you ignore that it’s supposed to be Silent Hill they are much better as stand-alone comics. The short stories in the middle are really fun. The physical book is also of very high quality materials.

Now that I’ve rambled on forever, here’s a quick rundown of each:

Continue reading “Book Review – Silent Hill Comics (Part I) by Scott Ciencin”