The joy of most of the best supernatural fiction is that where there is Weird Stuff, there will always be, not far behind it and closing fast, a bunch of intrepid Ordinary Clever Humans trying to understand it, document it, and wherever possible, have lunch with it (ideally without ending up as lunch to it).
Dracula has Van Helsing, Mina Harker and her boys, Buffy The Vampire Slayer had its Watchers’ Council. Anne Rice’s vampires and witches had their Talamasca. Doctor Who has its Torchwood. The group of ordinary, interested humans is the best way fiction has yet created to connect us – interested humans (Your Ordinariness May Vary) – with the world of the weird. It’s an idea that legitimises our interest and gives us a fictional pathway to step between the humdrum of our everyday lives and the bizarre, the scary, and the potentially wonderful.
So, where there is a Hellboy, it makes perfect sense that there would be a British Paranormal Society, poking its nose into the nooks and crannies of the supernatural and the uncanny, and wherever necessary, poking it with a stick.
In Mind Out Of Time, two of the Society’s highest fliers, Simon Bruttenholm (if you’re relatively new around these parts, the uncle of Trevor Bruttenholm, who was played by John Hurt in the original Ron Perlman Hellboy movies), and Honora Grant, end up in the usually sleepy English village of Noxton, each on separate missions, but at the same time.
You’ve got to know that’s dodgy before you take another step, right?
Also, Noxton, linguistics fans, would be “Town of night or darkness” if you broke down the origins of its word-parts. So, clearly, that’s gonna be legit.
What we get here is some classic Hollyood B-movie or especially Hammer-style set up. A strange, singular village brings two paranormal investigators together. One is looking for his research assistant, who stopped writing letters home the minute he got to the village, and who was conducting experiments in thought transference and the effect of location on the phenomenon – particularly in regard to some local standing stones. The other is looking into the peculiarities of the village’s seasonal festivals.
Cue villagers who aren’t keen on strangers poking their noses into local affairs. Villagers who clam up when asked about the missing researcher, Lowell, and who are unhelpfully vague about the ceremonies they perform to mark the passing of the seasons. There’s talk of a grey man – grey, as opposed to the well-known folk custom of the green man, a sign of rebirth, renewal and prosperity. The grey man, by contrast, appears to be a spirit of decay, of death and dust, and rather than celebrating his arrival, as with the green man, he’s a spirit that needs to be appeased, or…
Conversations are left hanging in the air. Children’s games that lie on the border between harmless and creepy are interrupted, only for their victim to flee in silent fear from their would-be rescuer (Honora Grant, in this case).
The sense of a village keen to observe the strangers is well rendered through both actions like this and a tightness, a closed-in sense to the artwork of Andrea Mutti. The artwork also subtly keeps the renderings of the village and its villagers mostly suggestive rather than sharp and clear, so there’s a sense of potential double and triple meanings, even double or triple realities, that follows you through the issue.
Hats off too to Lee Loughridge on colourist duties, beginning the issue in a kind of sepia to evoke the period of 1910, when our investigators make their visit, using a degree more black and white for Bruttenholm’s memories of his recent interactions with the missing Lowell, and then making internal, public-facing spaces like the Grey Man tavern feel warm and normal (despite the name!), in shades of pink. This, the colour suggests, is a normal place. Relax. Be comfortable. Don’t ask questions. Then go away again, stranger, and leave us in peace.
When night falls in places like this, the wealth of movie history – and indeed, the wealth of gothic fiction – tells us, things are about to get lively.
When Honora finds her way to a graveyard while investigating the rites of the grey man, she finds bizarre inscriptions and carvings on tombstones, grey against a blood red sunset sky.
Meanwhile, as you’d absolutely expect, Simon finds his quest for signs of Lowell leads him to investigate the standing stones. But getting to them is not as easy as geography or mapping would have him believe, and in classic horror story style, he gets completely turned around, just as twilight’s coming on, for that extra-spooky ‘lost in the middle of nowhere’ vibe.
Then three things happen to Simon in quick succession – you want to end your first issue on a high and a cliff-hanger, naturally, so again, you can feel where the energy is going as you move towards the last few pages of Time Out Of Mind.
First, he encounters a ‘helpful’ local – the precise helpfulness of whom has still yet to be determined, but who points him in the direction of “Angelfall.” That’s apparently the local name for the standing stones – a stylish move, adding that detail into our understanding late in the first issue, because it underlines the fact that there’s an outside reality and a Noxton reality, and that they may in actual fact have very little to do with one another.
Also, of course, for the linguists and metaphysicians in the audience, the idea of the standing stones having any correlation with fallen angels is irresistible, and gets our mind wondering about classical Christian mythology and particularly Milton’s Paradise Lost (our chief literary source for the idea that demons are angels expelled from Heaven).
And the name twists us up with everything we’ve learned up to that point. The grey man. Spirits of decay and dissolution. Rites to pacify and appease the spirits. Angelfall. Standing stones – perhaps the location of such pacification rites? And that idea of thought transference related to places of ritual significance. Shared thoughts leading to potential manifestation of a fear in the collective consciousness, maybe? Angelfall and the grey man?
That simple naming of the stones, so late in the issue, does a lot of heavy lifting – or rather, it allows and encourages us to do a lot of heavy lifting, giving us a moment to think about all this while our Spidey-senses start to tingle.
When Simon finds what he takes to be evidence of Lowell’s presence, it turns those Spidey-senses up to 11, like a dramatic chord of peril in a climactic moment of an old horror film. If he was here, then where the hell is he now? And what, if anything, has prevented him from writing to Simon as normal?
And then – well then, Roberson, Mutti and Loughridge give us what it’s fair to call ‘the money shot’ of the issue – plunging Simon into inexplicable peril and setting off question-mark klaxons in our head, determined to buy the next issue to find out what the actual hell gives!
What Time Out Of Mind delivers is pretty much everything you could ask for in issue #1 of a standalone British Paranormal Society comic-book arc. Sure, the Society’s technical leading lights aren’t around (the reveal that Sir Edward Grey and Sarah “ran away to the continent” is perhaps the only slightly clumsy thing in the issue, using Honora talking to herself to deliver this crucial information), but to be honest, we’re more than comfortable in the company of Bruttenholm and Grant here, and in essence, they could be any knowledgeable strangers poking their noses in where they’re not wanted.
The atmosphere and the progression through the classic stages of horror tension-building is so palpable and seemingly unstoppable here that it essentially makes them avatars in any case, people who don’t know enough to be scared, at the mercy of a malevolence that’s coming to meet them, whether they know it or not.
That’s worth a handful of any horror fan’s money, and Time Out Of Mind 1 is structured both to give your classic horror muscles a good workout, and to make you want to devour the rest of the story in the process. Grab yourself some Time Out Of Mind and go looking for the grey man with the British Paranormal Society today. If you don’t find yourself going on a classic Hammer horror binge after it, we’ll eat at least one of our hats. Tony Fyler