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Scratcher #2 (review)

Scratcher #2
Arbutus Films, April 2018
Writer: John Ward

We were asked to review the second issue of this independently published horror story. Our review of the first issue in 2017 was very positive. And we were not disappointed by the continuation of the story.

The protagonist, a tattooist named Dee, has made her way to Los Angeles to try and help her former customer, a priest named Jerry. But the seemingly sentient ink has seized control of Jerry and is causing him to behave to bizarre and increasingly violent ways. Jerry’s behaviour starts with dark rantings on the pulpit of a derelict church inhabited by the homeless.

“I will put my spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes… and you will be careful to observe my ordinances.”

But the tattoo mutters a hideous private message, and the possessed priest consequentially descends to biting and tearing human flesh and then crucifying some of the homeless on the walls of the church, and finally eating the entrails of a mountain lion as he retreats into the desert.

Readers of our first review will remember that Dee carries the burden of having tattooed the various victims of the malign ink. But, violently rebuffed by Jerry in her initial approach to help him, she decides to walk away. However, she is intercepted by a dreadlocked scientist, a nerd in an old Volkswagen Kombi. Dee initially judges him by his appearance and persistence as a pesky stalker, but it evolves that he is actually a molecular virologist on a mission. He offers a theory: the ink is actually a nano-engineered military experiment which has escaped into the wild. Indeed, he is able to provide an analysis from the equipment in his Volkswagen, the promise of a cure, and also trace Jerry’s telephone. (We never actually learn his name.)

This leads to a showdown where Dee confronts Jerry in the desert. Dee follows a hunch: she has the scientist read from the Bible. The ink runs – it scrambles like a spider into the skin of Jerry’s hand. And dramatically, Dee severes Jerry’s arm.

Dee gets John to hospital, and, moving on to her next rescue, she offers thanks to the scientist. The writer, John Ward, then offers us a clever twist. There is no victory here. And we begin to see some element of the truth of the ink.

Scratcher is the rusty scraping needle promised in the title. Dee’s quest is a series of horrific tasks for which she acknowledges she is poorly suited, and with no strategy other than guilt-driven intuition. We suffer a creeping tear as we see the story unfold, with no good on the horizon nor anywhere in sight. The story is one of the better horror titles we have read in years.

The comic is available on Comixology.